Two Canadians imprisoned in China since 2018 were free and on their way home, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Friday night.
The release of the two men, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, was made public just hours after the US Justice Department reached a settlement that allowed Huawei Technologies’ chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, to return to China in exchange for admitting wrongdoing. The way was cleared. In case of fraud.
Canadian authorities arrested Meng, 49, at Vancouver International Airport in December 2018 at the request of the United States, putting Canada in the middle of a diplomatic standoff between the two superpowers.
Trudeau said the two men left Chinese airspace at around 8:30 p.m. EDT, accompanied by Canadian Ambassador to China Dominic Barton.
According to Canadian news reports, around the same time, a private jet headed for China and carrying Ms Meng took off from Canadian airspace. Chinese state media later said Ms Meng was on her way home following Beijing’s “relentless efforts”.
Mr Trudeau said details about the Canadians’ release, and the talks and events leading up to it, will have to wait until they are back in Canada on Saturday.
“These two people have gone through an incredibly difficult test,” Trudeau said. “For the past thousand days he has shown strength, perseverance, resilience and grace, and we are all inspired by that.”
Mr Trudeau declined to comment on how the case and release affected Canada’s relationship with China, saying “there is going to be time for reflection and analysis in the coming days and weeks.” But the fact is, I know Canadians will be incredibly happy to know right now that, this Friday night, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor are on a plane and they are coming home.
The fates of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor have been tied to Ms. Meng’s case since their arrest. The two were taken into custody nine days after police in Canada arrested him.
The Chinese government has denied the allegations of “hostage diplomacy”, but the detention, arrest and trial of the two Canadians offered Beijing a means to remind Ottawa – and Washington – that their fate was also at stake. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said The United States welcomed the men’s release “after more than two and a half years of arbitrary detention.”
For more than 1,000 days, the two Canadians were in separate prisons in China, charged with espionage, without evidence, and were forced to go months without visits from diplomats.
The two men – Mr Kovrig, a former diplomat and Mr Spavor, an entrepreneur – were once relatively low-profile expatriates working in Asia. He became a symbol of the consequences of Beijing’s increasingly aggressive foreign policy, his detention widely regarded as retaliation for Ms Meng’s arrest.
In August, a court in northeastern China, where Mr Spavor lives, sentenced him to 11 years in prison after finding him guilty of espionage. Mr. Kovrig was awaiting a verdict in his case.
During his detention, Mr. Kovrig, who worked for a non-profit organisation, was imprisoned in a small prison cell in Beijing and subjected to repeated interrogations. He told his family that his diet was at times limited to rice and steamed vegetables.
Chinese officials kept Mr. Kovrig so isolated that he was Not aware of details of coronavirus pandemic Until October when Canadian diplomats informed him during a virtual visit, according to his wife, Veena Nadjibullah.
Mr. Spavor, a businessman, made a career out of doing business with North Korea. He helped organize a trip to North Korea by retired basketball player Mr. Rodman in 2013 and then a second visit the following year. Mr. Spavor’s company, Pactu Cultural Exchange, posted a picture Mr. Spavor with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Mr. Kim’s yacht in 2013.
In Canada, where the custody of the “two Michaels”, as the pair were known, was front-page news for months, the crisis sparked widespread anger and underscored the country’s weakness in the face of a growing superpower. Was.
Mr Trudeau had repeatedly criticized China’s handling of the case and called for the men’s release.
While Mr Kovrig and Mr Spavor were afforded minimal contact with the outside world during their imprisonment, Ms Meng faced few such restrictions. She was free to take private painting lessons and shop, and, before the pandemic, was Attended concerts of Chinese singers, although she was required to wear a GPS tracker.