By Richard Roth, Caitlin Hu and Ben Westcott, CNN
A heated back-and-forth between China and Canada kicked off in the final hours of the UN General Assembly Monday, after Canadian Foreign Minister Marc Garneau referenced the “two Michaels” recently released from detention in China.
Garneau suggested Canadian nationals Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig were imprisoned by the Chinese government in retaliation for Canada’s treatment of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou. On Friday, Meng was allowed to leave Canada after she reached a deal with the US Department of Justice over allegations of fraud for which she was detained in December 2018.
“Canada observed the rule of law, and two Canadian citizens paid a heavy price for this commitment … We continue to oppose the way these two fine people were treated,” he said.
In keeping Meng under house arrest, Ottawa had “applied both Canadian and international law in response to a request for extradition of a Chinese citizen,” Garneau said.
Later in the evening, a representative from China’s delegation to the UN General Assembly exercised the country’s right of reply, accusing the United States and Canada of keeping Meng under house arrest arbitrarily and without “legal reasons.”
“The true purpose was to surprise Chinese high-tech enterprises and companies as a way to hold back Chinese advancement in terms of science and technology. The US and Canada’s action is very typical of arbitrary detention,” said Liu Yang, a counselor in China’s UN mission.
The diplomatic clash comes less than a week after Canada and China announced the release of the three high-profile detainees who had been at the center of growing tensions between the two countries for almost three years.
Shortly after Meng’s release, Ottawa announced two Canadian nationals, former diplomat Kovrig and businessman Spavor, had been freed by the Chinese government. The two men had been held for more than 1,000 days by Beijing after being arrested on charges of espionage, shortly after Meng was detained.
The Chinese government had repeatedly insisted that both the Canadian nationals were not being held in response to Meng’s arrest, saying the charges against them were “iron-clad.”
Meng’s case is “completely different” from that of Kovrig and Spavor, Chinese representative Liu said Monday, insisting the two Canadians had been engaged in acts “that endanger Chinese security.”
Liu also repeated an assertion made earlier by state media that the pair confessed to their crimes, although the Canadian government has not indicated Kovrig and Spavor confessed to any offenses.
“We hope that Canada can face up to the facts squarely, correct their mistakes and draw lessons from what happened so that they do not make further mistakes,” Liu warned.
Canada responded, with a delegation representative saying Meng had been treated with judicial independence and rule of law, and noting “she spoke outside the Vancouver courthouse to thank the court.”
The Canadian citizens who were held in China “did not benefit from a similar degree of transparency, respect, due process or judicial independence,” the Canadian representative said.
“And we will continue to speak out against arbitrary detention in state-to-state relations, thank you.”
Liu responded one more time, saying “We cannot accept what he said.”
“Facts cannot be denied, and laws cannot be affronted. We believe that history will have a final judgment,” he added.
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