China has confirmed it has detained two Canadian men, saying they were detained on suspicion of “endangering national security”.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said entrepreneur Michael Spavor and former diplomat Michael Kovrig were taken into custody on Monday.
Mr Lu said Canada has been informed of the detentions, but declined to say whether the men have been provided with lawyers. He said they are being handled separately.
The two cases ratchet up pressure on Canada, which is holding an executive of Chinese telecoms giant Huawei wanted by the US.
China has demanded the immediate release of Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer and the daughter of its founder.
Asked if detentions were related to Meng’s arrest, Mr Lu said they were being handled according to Chinese law.
The detentions raise the stakes in a three-way international dispute also involving Canada and the US.
Mr Lu said Canada was informed about the detentions, and added that the cases are being handled by local bureaus of the national intelligence agency in Beijing, where Mr Kovrig was picked up, and the north-eastern city of Dandong, where Mr Spavor had been living.
“The legal rights of the two Canadians are being safeguarded,” Mr Lu said.
Meng was arrested in Vancouver on December 1 but released on bail. The US has requested her extradition to face charges of bank fraud.
Canadian officials have not been able to contact Mr Spavor “since he let us know he was being questioned by Chinese authorities”, Canadian global affairs spokesman Guillaume Berube said on Wednesday.
Mr Kovrig is an analyst on north-east Asia for the International Crisis Group think tank, who took a leave of absence from the Canadian government and is based in Hong Kong.
Mr Spavor runs tours of North Korea along with sports, business and other exchanges through his company, Paektu Cultural Exchange.
He has ties to figures in the North’s government, including leader Kim Jong Un and was instrumental in bringing NBA player Dennis Rodman to the North’s capital Pyongyang in 2013.
Acquaintances said he was due in Seoul, the South Korean capital, on Monday but never showed up.
The root of the dispute appears to be Canada’s arrest of Meng while she was changing planes at Vancouver airport. The US accuses Huawei of using a Hong Kong shell company to deceive banks and do business with Iran in violation of US sanctions.
China earlier warned of dire consequences if Meng was not released and the editor in chief of the Global Times, a Communist Party-run tabloid known for its provocative views, warned in a video on Wednesday night of “retaliatory measures” if Canada does not free Meng.