Canadians mark one year in Chinese detention as ‘diplomatic hostages’

Two Canadians detained in China after the arrest of a Chinese Huawei executive in Canada are marking one year in detention, with supporters accusing Beijing of using them as diplomatic hostages.

Michael Kovrig, a human rights NGO worker and ex-diplomat, and Michael Spavor, a North Korea-focused consultant, were detained by Chinese authorities on December 10 last year.

They were charged with espionage in what supporters said was Beijing’s revenge for the arrest in Canada of Meng Wangzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese communications company Huawei.

US prosecutors want Ms Meng extradited from Vancouver, where she is on bail, so she can face fraud charges.

International Crisis Group, the NGO Mr Kovrig works for, said: “It is clear that he is merely a pawn in a larger geopolitical game.”

Mr Spavor’s family released a statement saying: “Michael is an earnest, genuine, and impossibly fun person, who we believe has been detained in error. He deserves better, as does fellow Canadian Michael Kovrig. We call on all sides to work towards a quick and positive resolution that results in their release.”

The Canadians have been interrogated, spending periods in rooms with lights switched on 24 hours a day.

Acquaintances of Mr Spavor told The Telegraph that despite such conditions, he had been able to read in custody and work on Chinese language skills.

Ms Meng, who blogged about the “hardship” she endures in Vancouver, lives in luxury mansions, has access to lawyers and can roam the city.

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William Nee, analyst at Amnesty, described Mr Kovrig as “sensible, honest and measured”, adding that his detention was “a debacle in terms of China’s international reputation.

"The world is watching these cases as symbols of the way in which rule of law in China does or does not work.”

Mr Spavor is believed to be one of the few western people to have spent time in North Korea with the country’s dictator, Kim Jong Un. He accompanied US basketball star Dennis Rodman on trips there.

The detainments led to some academics, businesspeople and NGO workers avoiding China, fearing being held in diplomatic revenge exercises.

“There are a lot of people in the China-watching community who could see themselves in Michael Kovrig’s shoes,” Mr Nee said.

North Korea-focused analyst Ankit Panda said: “Michael Spavor’s case has been a wake-up call. It indicates the risks foreigners operate under if they reside and do business in China. If the government decides that you’re to be made an example of, there’s nothing you can do to protect yourself.”

Joseph Ferris, a former North Korea tour guide, bonded with Mr Spavor over their love of Korean culture. He said his friend was, “Just a cool guy. He gave me a bottle of basil whiskey from the DPRK [North Korea]. I’m saving it for when Michael gets out.”

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