China takes hostages? Two Canadians held in Huawei dispute

It turns out that US worries over conducting business and travel in China were justified. Two Canadian business executives have been arrested on national-security grounds in China, just days after the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou. CBS News reports that the Canadian embassy has thus far not been able to contact Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, although their spokesperson insists that their legal rights are being “safeguarded” by their jailers:


China on Thursday confirmed it has detained two Canadian men, raising the stakes in a three-way international dispute over the case of a Chinese telecoms executive facing possible extradition from Canada to the United States.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said entrepreneur Michael Spavor and former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig were taken into custody on Monday on suspicion of “engaging in activities that endanger the national security” of China.

Lu said Canada was informed about the detentions, but declined to say whether the men have been provided with lawyers. He said the cases are being handled separately by local bureaus of the national intelligence agency in Beijing, where Kovrig was picked up, and the northeastern city of Dandong, where Spavor had been living.

China isn’t tying the arrests to Meng, but it’s not difficult to see what’s going on here. Both men are sufficiently high profile to get the point across. As noted above, Kovrig had been a diplomat before going into the think-tank business in Hong Kong. Spavor has ties to the Kim regime in North Korea and arranges tours for Westerners to there, including the famous visits by Dennis Rodman. Spavor was supposed to travel to Seoul this week but “never showed up,” CBS’ sources report.


China had warned of “revenge” for the arrest of Meng, especially if Canada extradited her to the US. Canada’s taking a quiet line on this so far, but the message has been received:

Canada’s foreign minister declined to draw a line between the men’s detention and the court battle going on over whether to grant bail to Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer at Huawei Technologies who was arrested for extradition to the United States.

But analysts say that it is becoming increasingly apparent that these are acts of reprisal. In a video published Thursday, Hu Xijin, editor of the nationalist Global Times newspaper, warned in English that China’s revenge against Canada “will be far worse than detaining a Canadian.”

The Washington Post also points out that the cases of the Canadians are getting special attention:

Both Spavor and Kovrig are being investigated by the local branches of the state security apparatus, rather than the regular police, underlining the severity of the situation. In both cases, local media reported that they were being held “on suspicion of endangering China’s national security.” Chinese authorities have not confirmed the reports.

The message here is clear — don’t send Meng to the US. If Canada does extradite Meng, it’s a pretty clear signal that the same kind of pressure will fall on Americans living and traveling in China. The travel warning under consideration this week should probably go out sooner rather than later so that Americans have a chance to avoid making themselves into hostages, especially American executives doing business in China that would likely be the first targets of “revenge.”


Meng got released on bail late yesterday, so she will be watching this from one of her residences in Canada. For a while, at least.

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Jazz Shaw 12:01 PM on December 04, 2023
Jazz Shaw 9:21 AM on December 04, 2023