Chinese prosecutors have charged two detained Canadians with spying in an apparent bid to step up pressure on Canada to drop a US extradition request for a Huawei executive under house arrest in Vancouver.
Michael Kovrig was charged in Beijing with spying for state secrets and intelligence, and Michael Spavor was charged in Dandong, a city near the North Korean border, with spying for a foreign entity and illegally providing state secrets.
The charges were announced by China’s highest prosecutor’s office in brief social media posts.
Asked what evidence China had against the two, foreign ministry spokesmaon Zhao Lijian said only that each is charged with “secretly gathering state secrets for overseas forces with particularly serious consequences”.
“The facts are clear and the evidence solid and sufficient,” he told reporters at a daily briefing.
Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau said he was “very disappointed” by China’s move and called it a very difficult time for the two Canadians and their families.
“This is an important issue that we will keep working on,” he said. “Not just directly with the Chinese government but alongside our friends and allies around the world who are equally concerned about this arbitrary decision.”
Both men have been held for 18 months. They were detained shortly after the December 2018 arrest of Meng Wanzhou, a senior executive at Chinese tech giant Huawei. The daughter of Huawei’s founder was arrested at the request of US authorities who want her on fraud charges related to trade with Iran.
A Canadian judge ruled this month that the US extradition case against Meng could proceed to the next stage.
China has denied any explicit link between her case and the lengthy detention of the two Canadian men, but outside experts see them as tied and Chinese diplomats have strongly implied a connection.
Meng has been released on bail while her extradition case proceeds in court and is living in one of her two Vancouver mansions where she is reportedly working on a graduate degree.
Mr Kovrig and Mr Spavor are being held at an undisclosed location and have been denied access to lawyers or family members.
China has sentenced two other Canadians to death and suspended imports of Canadian canola, but said those moves were also unrelated to Meng’s case.
Relations between Canada and China are at their lowest point since the Chinese military’s bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
The tensions appear to be causing further harm to Huawei’s reputation in the Americas, with two of Canada’s three major telecommunication companies announcing earlier this month that they had decided not to use the Chinese tech giant for their next-generation 5G wireless network.
Bell Canada announced that Sweden-based Ericsson will be its supplier and Telus later announced it had also selected Ericsson and Nokia.
Huawei is the world’s biggest supplier of network gear used by phone and internet companies, but has long been seen as a front for spying by China’s military and its highly skilled security services.
The US has urged Canada to exclude Huawei equipment from its next-generation wireless networks, saying Huawei is legally beholden to the Chinese regime.
The US and Australia have banned Huawei, citing concerns that it is an organ of Chinese military intelligence — a charge the company denies.