BEIJING – According to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, two Canadian men detained since December in China have been officially arrested for espionage, which could lead to China-Canada tensions surrounding the arrest of a Chinese executive in Vancouver.
Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat detained during his visit to Beijing, was accused of "collecting state secrets and intelligence services abroad" while Michael Spavor, a business consultant detained in northeastern China, was charged "Stealing and providing state secrets for foreign countries," said Lu Kang, a foreign ministry spokesman, at a regular press conference.
The prosecution is likely to anger the government of Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who denounced the initial detentions of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor as "arbitrary" and politically motivated. Proponents of the two men and foreign legal experts said their detention appeared to be a retaliation for the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, Chief Financial Officer of Huawei, China's largest telecommunications company, at the behest of the United States in Canada.
The United States has pressured allies not to use Huawei's technology, arguing that China could use it to spy on other countries. These efforts intensified on Wednesday, when President Trump attempted to ban American telecommunications companies from installing foreign equipment that could pose a threat to national security. The measure appeared to be aimed at blocking Huawei's sales even though no nation or company was explicitly selected.
Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor were seized by police in December, days after Ms. Meng was arrested while changing planes in Vancouver. The Chinese government was outraged by the arrest of Ms. Meng and the charges against Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor increase the likelihood that they will be tried and convicted, deepening the stalemate with Mr. Trudeau's government.
Lu did not disclose any further details, saying only that the arrests had taken place recently.
"In China, everything is done in accordance with the law," said Lu. Responding to a reporter's question after criticizing Canadian officials on China's treatment of cases, he said, "We hope that Canada does not casually disturb or comment on China's legal system and practices."
Chinese officials said English before the last announcement: Mr. Kovrig and Mr Spavor had already signaled that they had been accused of espionage offenses. Kovrig worked for the United Nations and the Canadian Foreign Service before 2017, when he joined the International Crisis Group, a non-profit organization that seeks to defuse conflict between states. He focused on Chinese foreign policy, Asian regional policy and North Korea and was frequently quoted in foreign news agencies and invited to meetings in China.
Mr. Spavor took a less conventional route and used his knowledge of the Korean language to establish himself as a consultant to companies and individuals interested in North Korea, including former basketball star Dennis Rodman, who teamed up with Kim Jong-un, the leader of the North, befriended. Mr. Spavor was detained in Dandong, the Chinese city on the North Korean border.
In early March, a ruling committee of the ruling Chinese Communist Party announced that the investigators believed that Mr. Kovrig "stole and spied on" to obtain state secrets and intelligence services, and that Mr. Spavor had provided him with information.
China's definition of state secrets, however, can be far-flung opaque, and the International Crisis Group has stated that Kovrig's work was by no means vicious.
Since their detention, Kovrig and Spavor have been detained in secret detention centers without visits from lawyers and family members. Canadian diplomats were allowed to visit them about once a month. Mr. Lu, spokesman for the State Department, did not answer questions about the whereabouts of the two men on Thursday.
Human rights defenders denounced the arrests of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor on Thursday.
"Your Cases Show once again how the Chinese criminal system violates the human rights of detainees," said Patrick Poon, an Amnesty International researcher in Hong Kong. He called on Chinese officials to release the men because there was no "credible and concrete evidence" of crime.
In the meantime, [Meng] Meng was granted a bail as she proceeds against possible extradition to the United States to bring criminal charges. Her lawyers said they would sue Canadian border authorities, the police and the federal government for violating their constitutional rights when she was detained for three hours in December before being arrested.
In January, US prosecutors filed a lawsuit against Ms. Meng and Huawei, describing what they described as the company's attempts to steal business secrets, obstruct a criminal investigation, and participate in bank fraud while attempting to counter US sanctions to evade Iran. Huawei has denied violating the law, and the Chinese government has repeatedly said the charge is politically motivated.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said at a press conference in early March that the case against Huawei and Ms. Meng was "not a mere legal matter, but a deliberate political matter" to bring down Huawei.
Mr. Representatives from Trudeau, Canada and the United States have stated that the case against Ms. Meng is not a political but a legal matter. But President Trump left that position in December when he suggested intervening in the case if it helped seal a trade agreement with China.