Thirteen Canadians have been detained in China following the arrest on December 1 of a senior executive from Chinese telecoms equipment giant Huawei, Ottawa said Thursday, with eight subsequently released.
Global Affairs Canada spokesperson Guillaume Berube confirmed the detentions to AFP, adding the figures excluded Hong Kong.
The thirteen include former diplomat Michael Kovrig and consultant Michael Spavor, arrested on December 10, for activities said to threaten national security, as well as Sarah McIver, who was subsequently freed and returned to Canada.
China “safeguards the security and legitimate rights and interests of foreign citizens” in the country, said spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Lu Kang on Friday at a regular press briefing, adding that he didn’t have information on the specific cases.
There are approximately 200 Canadians overall who have been detained in China for a variety of alleged infractions and continue to face ongoing legal proceedings, and the number has remained relatively stable in recent years.
By way of comparison, there are almost 900 Canadians in a similar situation in the US.
Some observers believe the detentions of Kovrig, who works for the International Crisis Group, and Spavor, who is frequently consulted on matters linked to North Korea, were retaliatory actions following the arrest in Vancouver of Huawei’s Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou, who faces extradition to the United States.
Washington has accused her of fraud for helping evade US sanctions against Iran. She was later released on bail pending her extradition hearing.
Backed by the US and several European countries, Canada’s foreign minister Chrystia Freeland has repeated called for the immediate release of Kovrig and Spavor, whose arrests Ottawa has termed arbitrary.