BEIJING: China confirmed on Thursday two Canadians are under investigation on suspicion of endangering the country’s national security, fuelling tensions after Canada’s arrest of a top Chinese telecom executive on a US request.

Former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and business consultant Michael Spavor were put under “compulsory measures” on Monday, foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said, using a term which would usually mean they are in custody.

The two Canadians are “suspected of engaging in activities that threatened China’s national security,” Lu said at a regular press conference, without explaining if the two cases are related.

Kovrig, who works for the International Crisis Group (ICG) think tank, was being investigated by the Beijing bureau of state security, while the agency’s office in northeast Liaoning province was handling the probe into Spavor, Lu said.

Spavor is a China-based business consultant who facilitates trips to North Korea, met with its leader Kim Jong Un and arranged some of retired NBA star Dennis Rodman’s trips to the country.

Their cases will fuel suspicions China is retaliating against Canada’s arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Chinese telecom giant Huawei, at Washington’s request on allegations related to breaking Iran sanctions.

Meng was released on Can$10 million (US$7.5 million) bail by a court in Vancouver on Tuesday pending a US extradition hearing.

Her case has infuriated Beijing and shaken Canada’s relations with China, which is itself embroiled in a trade war with the United States.

Kovrig’s employer, ICG, had reported his arrest earlier this week while Canada’s government said on Wednesday that it had not heard from Spavor since he was questioned.

Lu said China provided “relevant information” to the Canadian consulate “without delay”.

Spavor is based in northeast China, where he runs the Paektu Cultural Exchange programme, an organisation that facilitates sport, cultural, tourism and business trips to North Korea.

He earned recognition after helping facilitate visits by former Chicago Bulls player Rodman in 2013 and 2014. Spavor is one of only a few Westerners to have met with Kim in recent years.“We have been unable to make contact since he let us know he was being questioned by Chinese authorities,” Canadian foreign ministry spokesman Guillaume Berube said.

Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said the Canadian government had raised his case with Chinese authorities.

Canadian officials said they were officially informed of Kovrig’s detention via fax early Wednesday.

ICG has said that it has not received any information about Kovrig since his arrest.

China’s foreign ministry said ICG was not registered in China and its employees would be “in violation” of the law if they engage in activities in the country.

“Canada is deeply concerned about the detention of Mr Kovrig and Canada has raised the case directly with Chinese officials,” Freeland said.

Published in Dawn, December 14th, 2018

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