Canada on Friday moved away from diplomatic caution and made its first formal demand for China to immediately release two Canadians who have been detained in apparent retaliation for Canada’s arrest of a top Chinese tech executive.
The US, the UK and the EU also issued statements in support of Canada.
“We are deeply concerned by the arbitrary detention by Chinese authorities of two Canadians earlier this month and call for their immediate release,” Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland said.
China’s ambassador to Canada was called on Friday and told of Ottawa’s demand, a senior Canadian government official said.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because they lack authorization to discuss the call publicly.
Huawei Technologies Co (華為) chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou (孟晚舟) was arrested in Vancouver on Dec. 1 at the request of the US, which wants her extradited to face charges that she and her company misled banks about the company’s business dealings in Iran.
Nine days later, the Chinese detained Canadian ex-diplomat Michael Kovrig and Canadian entrepreneur Michael Spavor on vague allegations of “engaging in activities that endanger the national security” of China.
Freeland’s declaration marked a harder tone from Canadian officials.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had been criticized by the opposition for what they called unacceptable reticence over his suggestion on Wednesday that raising demands for their release would be akin to “to stomping on the table” without achieving their release.
Freeland said that Canada is honoring its extradition treaty with the US and is conducting a fair and transparent legal proceeding with respect to Meng.
US Department of State spokesman Robert Palladino said that Canada is honoring its extradition treaty commitments.
“We also express our deep concern for the Chinese government’s detention of two Canadians earlier this month and call for their immediate release,” Palladino said.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also called for their release last week.
British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Jeremy Hunt said in a statement that the UK is confident that Canada is respecting its extradition treaty with the US and said he is “deeply concerned” that China might have detained the two Canadians for political reasons.
The EU issued a statement saying: “The declared motive for the arrest and detention of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, both Canadian nationals, raises concerns about legitimate research and business practices in China.”
Freeland thanked allies for speaking out and said that Canada would not compromise or politicize the rule of law.
The show of support from allies is significant for Canada, which has felt relatively isolated in the past few months, particularly following US President Donald Trump’s criticism of Trudeau and his lack of public support.
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