China Reveals Spying Accusations Against Former Canadian Diplomat
BEIJING — The Chinese authorities announced sweeping espionage accusations against a former Canadian diplomat on Monday, days after Canada approved an extradition hearing for an executive of a Chinese technology giant, whose arrest in Vancouver has incensed Beijing.
The spying accusations against the former diplomat, Michael Kovrig, were reported on an official news website for the Chinese legal administration. They appear likely to deepen a political rift between Canada and China that was prompted by the executive’s arrest.
While the Chinese report did not announce formal criminal charges against Mr. Kovrig, it could be read as a menacing signal in Canada, where Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer for Huawei, a big Chinese telecommunications company, faces possible extradition to the United States for trial on fraud charges.
[Huawei is said to be preparing to sue the American government over efforts to ban its products.]
The report came two days before the Supreme Court of British Columbia is set to begin a hearing on Ms. Meng’s possible extradition.
Mr. Kovrig and Michael Spavor, a Canadian businessman, were both detained in China in December, less than a week after the Canadian authorities revealed that Ms. Meng had been arrested at the start of that month.
The investigation into Mr. Kovrig for “stealing and spying to obtain state secrets and intelligence has made major progress,” said the report, which was issued by China Peace, the website for the Chinese Communist Party’s law-and-order committee.
Citing unnamed “relevant agencies,” the report said that starting in 2017, Mr. Kovrig regularly entered China on a business visa and, “using connections inside China, stole and spied to obtain sensitive Chinese information and intelligence.”
Mr. Spavor, who lived near China’s border with North Korea and often did business in the North, was one of his sources, the report said.
Mr. Kovrig, it said, “has gravely violated Chinese law.” The report did not make the same accusation against Mr. Spavor, suggesting that, for now, his case is being treated differently.
“They use this allegation of stealing state secrets as a catchall,” said David Mulroney, Canada’s ambassador to China from 2009 to 2012. “They can determine that anything is improper. A conversation you had which was O.K. yesterday, is a state secret today.”
Since early 2017, Mr. Kovrig has worked as an expert adviser for the International Crisis Group, a nonprofit organization that seeks to defuse international conflicts, and he became a prominent expert on North Korea, the South China Sea and other regional trouble spots that involve China.
The Chinese report on Monday opened the possibility that Mr. Kovrig’s arrest was linked to that work.
Hugh Pope, director of communications for the crisis group, said by email that the organization had “heard nothing official about any charges being laid against our colleague, Michael Kovrig.”
“Michael’s work for Crisis Group has been entirely transparent and in the open as all who follow his work can attest,” Mr. Pope said. “Vague and unsubstantiated accusations against him are unwarranted and unfair.”
Supporters of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor, as well as many foreign experts and former Canadian diplomats who served in China, believe that the two men were detained to give China leverage against Canada after the arrest of Ms. Meng.
In January, a court in northeast China sentenced a Canadian man, Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, to death after finding him guilty of drug trafficking at a retrial.
Mr. Schellenberg’s family, lawyers and many foreign legal experts said the speed and irregularities of the retrial suggested that politics had played a role in his fate.
The latest Chinese announcement came while Beijing has been pressing Canada to release Ms. Meng so that she will not face trial in the United States.
In January, American prosecutors released an indictment against Ms. Meng and Huawei, describing what they said were activities by Huawei to steal commercial secrets, obstruct a criminal inquiry and evade unilateral American sanctions on Iran.
Ms. Meng faces fraud charges that prosecutors have linked to Huawei’s efforts to slip around the sanctions.
On Friday, the Canadian Department of Justice authorized the extradition hearing for Ms. Meng, drawing another round of criticism from the Chinese government and state media.
This means the legal process in Canada has been locked into place, with no chance of political intervention, and could stretch on for years.
“Even if China continues to engage in retaliation,” said Charles Burton, a senior fellow at the MacDonald-Laurier Institute in Ottawa and a former Canadian diplomat in China, “it will not lead to Ms. Meng being released. It will simply damage Chinese interests in Canada for a long time.”
He added, “I really feel very concerned the Chinese government has misread the situation and will seriously set back China’s desire to fully participate in the global community.”
On Friday, too, Ms. Meng filed a lawsuit against Canadian authorities, claiming that they unlawfully held and questioned her before she was formally notified of her arrest.
On Monday, a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Lu Kang, said Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor were being treated fairly.
“I’m sure it’s very clear to you that, compared to how other countries in the world handle cases involving national security, China’s ways are no different,” Mr. Lu said at a news briefing that took place before the espionage accusations were reported.