Ottawa must act first to secure release of detained Canadians: China

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OTTAWA — Beijing is pushing back against Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne’s most recent call for the release of two Canadians detained in China, saying it is up to Canada to make the first move to secure their release.

Champagne raised the cases of former diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor during a Tuesday meeting in Rome with Chinese counterpart Wang Yi.

The two Michaels were arrested in late December 2018 in apparent retaliation for Canadian authorities in Vancouver having detained Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, who is wanted in the U.S. on fraud charges.

Global Affairs Canada says Champagne repeated Canada’s calls for Kovrig and Spavor to be released during his meeting with Wang and asked Beijing to commute the sentences of several Canadians sentenced to death in China.

But Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian says it is up to Canada to act first to address what he described as “the crux of the problem,” in apparent reference to Meng’s continued detention.

Meng, who has denied any wrongdoing, is facing possible extradition to the U.S., while Kovrig and Spavor were charged with spying in June.