U.S. Deeply Disturbed by Lack of Transparency in Legal Process for Trial of Two Canadian Citizens in Chinese Custody

The United States on Tuesday (March 23) expressed concern about the lack of transparency in the legal process by which the Chinese government continues to detain and try two Canadians, and called for continued consular access to them. Chinese authorities held closed trials of Canadian citizens Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig on March 19 and 22, respectively, on charges of espionage.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price tweeted Tuesday, “We remain deeply troubled by the lack of transparency in the legal process against Michael Spavor and Kang Mingkai, and join Canada in calling for them to be granted ongoing consular access under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned China’s actions as “totally unacceptable, as is the lack of transparency in these court proceedings.”

Jim Nickel, chargé d’affaires of the Canadian Embassy in Beijing, told media outside the courtroom Monday that their repeated requests to attend the trial were denied by China on national security grounds.

William Klein, acting minister of the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, who was outside the courtroom Monday to show solidarity with Canada, told the media, “The United States stands shoulder to shoulder with Canada in demanding the immediate release of their two arbitrarily detained citizens.”

Asked at a regular press conference in Beijing on Monday about diplomats in China not being allowed to attend the trial, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said, “Since the case involves state secrets, the court concerned is not open to hear the case in accordance with the law, which is beyond reproach.”

She accused the Canadian side of “gathering some embassy personnel in China to dictate to the Chinese side how to handle the cases of Canadian citizens in China according to the law, which is a gross interference in China’s judicial sovereignty.”

China arrested former Canadian diplomat Kang Mingkai and businessman Spavor in December 2018, shortly after huawei‘s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou was arrested by Canadian police at the request of the United States.

Meng Wanzhou, the daughter of Ren Zhengfei, the founder of Chinese telecom giant Huawei, was charged by the U.S. with wire transfer and bank fraud for making false statements to banks to circumvent U.S. sanctions against Iran. There is an extradition treaty between the U.S. and Canada.

Meng was released on bail and is confined to her Vancouver mansion, where she is currently fighting in a Canadian court to prevent extradition to the United States for trial.

China insists that the detention of the two Canadian citizens has nothing to do with Meng’s case.

In a phone call with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after taking office, President Biden condemned the continued detention of the two Canadian citizens by Chinese authorities and promised him that the United States would do everything possible to secure their release.

During February, 58 countries, including Canada and the United States, signed the Declaration Against Arbitrary Detention in State-to-State Relations.

Secretary of State Blinken and National Security Advisor Sullivan expressed deep concern about the arrest, prosecution and trial of Kang Mingkai and Spavor by Chinese authorities during a meeting in Anchorage last week with Yang Jiechi, member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee in charge of foreign affairs, and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.