The Chinese Foreign Ministry said two Canadian citizens arrested in late 2019 and allowed to return to Canada in a prisoner exchange, were released on bail on health grounds.
A ministry spokeswoman made the comment as Beijing sought to downplay the connection between their release and the return to China of a long-held Huawei Technologies CEO.
Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig were arrested in December 2019, days after Huawei’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, was arrested in Canada at the request of US authorities.
Many countries described China’s behavior as a “hostage policy”, while China accused Canada of arbitrary detention.
Canadians have been imprisoned for more than 1,000 days.
Meng fought the United States’ request for extradition from Canada. She arrived in China on Saturday after reaching an agreement with the US Department of Justice that led to a prisoner exchange.
“Meng Wanzhou’s case is completely different from that of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters today.
Hua said the two men were suspected of endangering national security.
Spavor, a businessman, was sentenced to 11 years in prison for espionage.
Kovrig has yet to be sentenced, but he faces similar charges.
Hua said that China released the two Canadians on bail after “a diagnosis made by specialized medical institutions and with the guarantee of the Canadian ambassador to China.”
Hua did not answer reporters’ questions about whether the release of prisoners was completely unrelated and what the health reasons were.
Canada has confirmed that Kovrig and Spavor are innocent of any charges.
“As we have said from the start, the arrests and treatment of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor and the treatment they were subjected to until they left China was arbitrary,” Global Affairs Canada said in a statement.
“These two men are innocent.”
Meng has reached an agreement with US federal prosecutors to drop the fraud charges against her next year. In return, you bear the responsibility for misrepresenting the company’s business transactions in Iran.
Her return to China was broadcast live on the country’s central CCTV, where she wore a red dress under the Chinese flag and thanked the country’s leader Xi Jinping and the ruling Communist Party.
Today, Hua said, Meng was a victim of “political persecution” and was able to return to China thanks to the government’s “unremitting efforts.”
In contrast, the state-owned tabloid Global Times reported the news of the release of the Canadians, and while the news spread online, it was not reported by more reliable government media agencies such as CCTV or Xinhua.
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Huawei is the world’s largest supplier of network equipment to telephone and Internet companies. It has been a symbol of China’s progress in becoming a global technological power, and the subject of US security and law enforcement concerns.
The administration of former US President Donald Trump cut Huawei’s access to US components and technology, including Google Music and other smartphone services, and later banned vendors around the world from using US technology to produce components for Huawei.
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