China charges Canadians with spying

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China hoped Canada "will not make irresponsible remarks" about China's law enforcement and judicial proceedings. Photo credit: Getty

Chinese authorities have formally arrested two Canadians detained on state secrets charges, according to the government, in what is likely to further increase tension between Ottawa and Beijing.

Businessman Michael Spavor, who worked with North Korea, and former diplomat Michael Kovrig were picked up separately in December, shortly after Canada arrested Huawei Technologies chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou, who faces extradition to the US.

China has repeatedly demanded Meng be released and has reacted angrily to extradition proceedings against her in a Canadian court.

"According to Chinese prosecutors' approval, Michael Kovrig, due to being suspected of crimes of gathering state secrets and intelligence for foreign [forces], and Michael Spavor, for being suspected of crimes of stealing and illegally providing state secrets for foreign [forces], have in recent days been approved for arrest according to law," foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said.

China hoped Canada "will not make irresponsible remarks" about China's law enforcement and judicial proceedings, Lu said.

The Canadian embassy in Beijing did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Canadian diplomats have been allowed to visit the two men in detention.

Kovrig works for the International Crisis Group (ICG) non-governmental organisation, which focuses on conflict resolution.

While Canada says China has made no specific link between the detentions of the two men and Meng's arrest, experts and former diplomats say they have no doubt it is using their cases to pressure Canada.

Meng, 47, is the daughter of Huawei Technologies' billionaire founder, Ren Zhengfei.

She was arrested at Vancouver's airport in December on a US warrant and is fighting extradition on charges she conspired to defraud global banks about Huawei's relationship with a company operating in Iran.