OTTAWA: China has arrested a third Canadian amid a diplomatic spat between Beijing and Ottawa over the arrest of a Chinese telecom executive, a Canadian official said on Wednesday.

“Global Affairs Canada is aware of a Canadian citizen detained in China,” ministry spokeswoman Maegan Graveline told AFP, without providing further details.

A government source said “there is no reason to believe that this case is linked to [two] other recent cases of Canadians detained in China”.

Earlier Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular press briefing that she had “not heard” about the detention, first reported by Canada’s National Post.

The recent detentions of a Canadian former diplomat and a Canadian entrepreneur have raised suspicions that Beijing is holding them in retaliation for Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou’s Dec 1 arrest, though no link has officially been made between the cases.

Meng was released on bail last week in Vancouver pending a US extradition hearing on US fraud charges related to sanctions-breaking business dealings with Iran.

China has accused the other detainees — former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and China-based business consultant Michael Spavor — of activities “that endanger China’s national security” — a phrase often used by Beijing when alleging espionage.

They were both detained on Dec 10.

Kovrig took an unpaid leave from his diplomatic post last year to work as a Hong Kong-based senior adviser at the International Crisis Group think tank, while Spavor facilitates trips to North Korea and helped former NBA star Dennis Rodman travel to there.

Collateral damage

Beijing threatened Canada with “grave consequences” if Meng was not freed and Chinese state-run media lashed out at the arrest, saying it was politically motivated.

Ottawa has repeatedly said Meng’s arrest was not political but rather a judicial process in keeping with an extradition treaty with Washington.

Canadian officials have been granted consular access to both men.

But Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told Toronto’s Citytv last week that Ottawa is still “trying to figure out why, [and] trying to work with China to demonstrate that this not acceptable.”

Pressed by public broadcaster Radio-Canada why he had not personally intervened in the cases by calling China’s President Xi Jinping, he said on Tuesday: “In international politics, it is always better to proceed by degrees. If I ever spoke to him and he said no, what is my next move?”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, meanwhile, has branded the arrests “unacceptable”. He made the remarks after a meeting with Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, who insisted authorities were acting “scrupulously” in Meng’s detention.

“We all agree that the most important thing we can do is uphold the rule of law, ensure that Ms Meng’s right to due process is respected and that the current judicial process in Canada remains apolitical,” she told a joint news conference in Washington on Friday.

China, however, has said that Canada and the United States overstepped their authority and that Meng, who was arrested while changing planes in Vancouver, broke no laws.

ICG stressed that “at no point has there been any hint of any wrongdoing” by Kovrig.

“Far from being secretive, Michael’s work was open for all to see, Chinese officials first and foremost,” ICG president and CEO Robert Malley has said in a statement, referring to the detainee’s past and present roles.

Observers say Canada is increasingly looking like collateral damage in a simmering US-China trade war, with Beijing at the same time working to ease trade tensions with Washington.

Published in Dawn, December 20th, 2018

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