China on Monday said detained Canadian nationals Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor had acted together to "steal state secrets," a move by China that followed hard on the heels of an announcement allowing the extradition process for detained Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou to proceed.
Meng, who was arrested in Vancouver on Dec. 1 at the request of U.S. investigators, has also filed a lawsuit against the Canadian government, alleging procedural errors by officers who arrested her.
The U.S. wants to extradite her to face charges of bank fraud linked to the breach of sanctions against Iran. Canada said on Friday the extradition hearing could proceed, while Meng is due in court on Wednesday to set a date for the extradition proceedings to start.
The case could take many months to resolve, and Meng is living under house arrest at her Vancouver home in the meantime.
Chinese political commentator Chen Daoyin said Meng was clearly hoping to stall the extradition procedure by attacking her arrest on procedural grounds.
"I think Meng is hoping to invalidate the extradition process on the grounds that there were procedural irregularities," Chen said. "In the Western legal system, the material facts of the case become meaningless if procedures are defective."
Meng filed her lawsuit in British Columbia's Supreme Court on Friday, seeking damages against the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA), and the federal government for breaching her civil rights.
She says border officers held, searched, and questioned her at the airport under false pretenses, and "intentionally failed to advise her of the true reasons for her detention, her right to counsel, and her right to silence".
Kovrig and Spavor were arrested on Dec. 10 in what was widely seen as a retaliatory move following Meng's arrest, which has damaged ties between Beijing and Ottawa.
State news agency Xinhua reported that former Canadian diplomat Kovrig had spied on China with the help of Spavor. There had been no previous link made between the two cases.
"China ... will firmly crack down on criminal acts that severely undermine national security," Xinhua said.
Call for release
Meanwhile Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang accused Canada and the U.S. of abusing their bilateral extradition treaty, demanding that Washington withdraw its accusations against Meng.
China called on Canada to "immediately release Ms. Meng Wanzhou and let her return to China in safety," Lu told a regular news briefing in Beijing.
At least 13 Canadians were detained after Chinese officials vowed to retaliate for Meng's arrest.
While at least eight have since been released, a court in the northeastern city of Dalian on Dec. 29 handed down the death penalty to Canadian national Robert Schellenberg, who was originally sentenced to 15 years in prison for drug smuggling last November.
Former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and consultant Michael Spavor remain in detention on suspicion of "endangering national security."
Kovrig is a diplomat on leave who was working for the International Crisis Group think tank at the time of his detention, while Spavor is an entrepreneur known for contacts with high-ranking North Korean officials, including leader Kim Jong Un.
The International Crisis Group rejected the allegations against Kovrig in a statement on Monday.
"Michael's work for Crisis Group has been entirely transparent and in the open as all who follow his work can attest," spokesman Hugh Pope said. "Vague and unsubstantiated accusations against him are unwarranted and unfair."
A Chinese government spokesman took issue Monday with U.S. claims that Huawei poses a security threat to countries where it does business.
Spokesman Zhang Yesui said U.S. officials were "playing up the so-called security risks" associated with Chinese companies.
"This kind of behavior is interference into economic activities by political means and is against World Trade Organization rules. It disrupts an international market order that is built on fair competition," Zhang told reporters on Monday. "This is a typical case of double standards that is neither fair nor ethical."
The U.S. Department of Justice has accused Huawei of hiding behind a linked company, Skycom, to mask its operations in Iran and accused Meng of repeatedly lying to Huawei’s banking partners about the relationship with Skycom, which they described as a "partner."
"Huawei orchestrated the 2007 sale [of Skycom] to appear as an arm’s length transaction between two unrelated parties, when in fact Huawei actually controlled the company that purchased Skycom," it said in a summary of the January 2019 indictment.
On Jan. 24, national security researchers at George Mason University published a report warning that Huawei should be regarded as a potential security threat as governments around the world begin tendering for next-generation 5G mobile network infrastructure, given a 2017 Chinese law requiring Chinese companies and citizens to comply with spying requests from the government.
Huawei has repeatedly insisted that it is a private company with no ties to the state.
Reported by Lau Siu-fung for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Liu Fei for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.