Canadian Michael Spavor is on trial for espionage in China | Political news

The timing of the trials of Spavor and his compatriot Michael Kovrig is seen as a political decision designed to coincide with the US-China negotiations.

Michael Spavor, one of two Canadians detained by China more than two years ago, appeared in court Friday morning to face espionage charges, in a case seen in Ottawa and Washington in retaliation for Canada’s arrest of a senior Huawei executive on an extradition warrant. the United States.

China arrested Spavor and his compatriot Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat, in December 2018, just days after Canadian police arrested Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer.

Beijing insists the detentions are unrelated to the arrest of Meng, who remains under house arrest at one of her Vancouver mansions, as she fights extradition to the United States.

The two men have had virtually no contact with the outside world since their detention, and virtual consular visits only resumed in October after a nine-month hiatus that authorities deemed necessary due to the coronavirus.

Kovrig, a former diplomat, is due to stand trial in Beijing on Monday.

Police set up a cordon outside the Dandong Intermediate People’s Court, which lies along the Yalu River across from North Korea, the isolated country Spavor regularly visited as a man on Friday. business.

Just before 9 a.m. local time (01: 00GMT), vans accompanied by a police car arrived at the court, although it was not possible to see if Spavor was inside one. cars. The test was scheduled to start at 10 a.m. (02:00 GMT).

The trial dates were announced by Canada as the United States and China prepared to hold high-level talks in Alaska, the first since U.S. President Joe Biden took office, which have proven to be controversial .

Diplomatic agreement

China denied on Thursday that the trials were linked to the talks.

The trial can only last one day and a verdict is unlikely to be delivered immediately. China has a conviction rate of over 99%.

Observers said the conviction of the two men could ultimately facilitate a diplomatic deal that would allow the two men to be released and returned to Canada.

Guy Saint-Jacques, former Canadian ambassador to Beijing, said the trial schedule was clearly designed to coincide with talks between the United States and China, which want to pressure the Biden administration to organize the release of Meng.

Foreign diplomats wait outside the Intermediate People’s Court where Michael Spavor is scheduled to stand trial, Friday in Dandong, Liaoning Province [Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters]

“It’s fair to say that at this point the solution has to come from Washington… (Canada) is stuck in this geopolitical game that is unfolding between the United States and China,” he told Thursday. the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

“We are in a very difficult position because in fact, unfortunately, at this point there is nothing the Canadian government can do.

Meng – whose father is Huawei founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei – is waging a two-year extradition battle to the United States on charges of violating US sanctions against Iran.

His trial in Vancouver has entered its final stages and hearings are expected to end in mid-May, barring appeals.

In a statement, Spavor’s family called for the unconditional release of the two men.

“Michael is just an ordinary Canadian businessman who has done extraordinary things to build constructive ties between Canada, China and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” they said.

“He loved living and working in China and would never have done anything to offend the interests of China or the Chinese people.”

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