A second Canadian has been detained for “activities that endanger China’s national security,” Beijing said Thursday — a possible act of retribution for the arrest of a Huawei executive in Canada.
A report by the Liaoning provincial government’s official news outlet confirmed that Michael Spavor, a businessman with deep ties to the North Korean regime, who facilitated Dennis Rodman’s high-profile visit to the country, was detained Monday as part of an investigation conducted by the Liaoning bureau of state security.
The news comes days after it was revealed that Michael Kovrig, a former Canadian diplomat had been detained in Beijing “on suspicion of engaging in activities that harm China's state security.”
The Globe and Mail newspaper reported that Spavor and Kovrig know each other.
The arrests follow the detention of Meng Wanzhou, the CFO of Huawei, in Vancouver last week. Meng was released on $7.5 million bail Monday while she awaits possible extradition to the U.S. to face charges of violating sanctions on Iran.
Meng is currently living in her six-bedroom mansion in a Vancouver suburb, where she was visited by guests traveling in a car with diplomatic plates.
Hu Xijin, editor of the government-run Global Times, said in a video posted on the newspaper’s website this week: “I personally believe that if Canada extradites Meng to the U.S., China’s revenge will be far worse than detaining a Canadian.”
Lu Kang, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, said Thursday that the Canadian embassy in China has been notified of both Spavor’s and Kovrig’s arrest, and their legitimate rights have been protected.
“China is taking action in accordance with the law,” Lu said at a press briefing. When asked about a link between the arrests and Meng’s detention, Lu declined to comment.
Kovrig is still viewed as an employee of Global Affairs Canada, the department of the government that manages diplomatic and consular relations, but he is currently on leave and working with the International Crisis Group (ICG), a think tank.
“I don’t want to speculate as to what’s behind it but I am prepared to be categorical about what’s not behind it, and what’s not behind it is any illegal activity or endangering of Chinese national security,” Robert Malley, the president and chief executive of ICG, told Reuters. “Everything we do is transparent, it’s on our website. We don’t engage in secretive work, in confidential work.”
Donald Trump earlier this week sought to politicized the arrest of Meng by suggesting he would be willing to release her in return for a better trade deal.
In a direct rebuke to the White House, Canada’s foreign minister Chrystia Freeland said Wednesday: “Our extradition partners should not seek to politicize the extradition process or use it for ends other than the pursuit of justice and following the rule of law.”
The U.S. and China are currently engaged in trade talks after Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to a 90-day trade war truce last month. Some speculated that Meng’s arrest could derail the process, but China has continued to make concessions in an effort to help defuse tensions.
However, the Department of Justice is set to publish this week indictments against hackers working for the Chinese government for attacks on technology service providers, which could upend the detente.
On Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo publicly accused China of conducting the recent attack on Marriott Hotels, in which 500 million customer records were compromised. Bill Priestap, assistant director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, told Congress Wednesday that China is “the most severe counterintelligence threat facing our country today.”
Cover image: Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies Co., leaves her home under the supervision of security in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, on Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. (Ben Nelms/Bloomberg via Getty Images)