China makes good on threats with 2 Canadian citizens detained in escalating Huawei fight

  • China has detained a second Canadian, reportedly the man who introduced Dennis Rodman to Kim Jong Un, in an escalating diplomatic spat over the detention of a Huawei executive.
  • Canada’s The Globe and Mail and the Associated Press have identified the second man as the Liaoning-based entrepreneur Michael Spavor.
  • Spavor, a high-profile nonprofit tour organiser, joins Michael Kovrig, a senior analyst for International Crisis Group who previously served as a Canadian diplomat. Kovrig was detained in Beijing earlier this week.
  • The apparent tit-for-tat hostage diplomacy is surely the latest unspoken retaliation by Beijing for the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Canada on December 1.
  • Meng posted bail Wednesday and has reportedly thanked China for its support, according to a WeChat message circulating across Chinese social media.

A second Canadian has reportedly been detained in China and is being questioned by state security, as Beijing appears to have come good on its earlier threats of “grave consequences” for Canada after the arrest in Vancouver of Huawei’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, on December 1.

Canada’s The Globe and Mail and the Associated Press have identified the second person as the well-known Liaoning-based entrepreneur Michael Spavor.

The detention of Spavor and Michael Kovrig, a senior analyst for the International Crisis Group who previously served as a Canadian diplomat, within the space of a week is certain to have Canadian authorities taking notice.

“We are aware that a Canadian citizen, Mr. Michael Spavor, is presently missing in China,” the Global Affairs Canada representative Guillaume Berube told Canada’s Global News.

Canadian officials are trying to track Spavor, who reportedly sought out the Canadian government after being questioned by Chinese officials, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Wednesday night.

Canada has since lost contact with the Dandong-based director of the Paektu Cultural Exchange. Calls from Business Insider to Paektu and to Spavor’s Jilin phone number on Thursday could not get through.

He brought Rodman to Kim

Rodman North KoreaWANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty ImagesThe former US basketball player Dennis Rodman arriving at Beijing International Airport from North Korea on January 13, 2014.

“We haven’t been able to make contact with him since he let us know about this,” Freeland said on Wednesday. “We are working very hard to ascertain his whereabouts and we have also raised this case with Chinese authorities.”

Spavor, who runs a nonprofit business assisting travel inside North Korea, is a relatively high-profile businessman out of Dandong, not far from the northern metropolis of Dalian, in Liaoning. He made headlines by linking up the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un with the former US basketball player Dennis Rodman in Pyongyang a few years back.

Canada-China relations have been tense since the detention of Meng, the daughter of the founder of Huawei, Ren Zhengfei.

Here’s the ‘heavy price’

Canada chinaGREG BAKER/AFP/Getty ImagesChinese police officers standing guard outside the Canadian Embassy in Beijing on Monday.

In the days that followed, state media came out swinging.The People’s Daily warned Canada to choose between “justice and willfulness,” saying Canada must “stop violating the legal and reasonable rights of Chinese citizens and give an explanation to the Chinese people,” which may “forestall paying a heavy price.”

And from the Global Times: “China’s message to Canada is clear: Canada must correct its mistake and immediately stop violating her lawful rights and interests, as well as give the Chinese people a proper explanation for this disgusting and vile act made at the behest of the United States.

“Otherwise, as the Chinese side has warned, Canada will pay a heavy price.”

Read more:
China is furious and global markets are in an uproar as the daughter of one of the country’s richest men languishes in a Canadian jail

The detention of Spavor followed hot on the heels of the reported detention of the ICG analyst Kovrig in Beijing on Monday.

Kovrig is reportedly being questioned by the state security department in Beijing on suspicion of “engaging in activities that endanger China’s national security,” according to the Beijing News, citing an unnamed government official.

At his regular press conference, China’s foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang on Wednesday declined to discuss Kovrig.

“The Canadian citizen you asked about, detained in Beijing?” Lu said. “I have no information here that can be provided to you. If there is such a situation, please rest assured that the relevant Chinese authorities will handle the matter according to the law.”

The foreign ministry’s silence is an important beat in the Chinese government’s familiar hostage diplomacy or tit-for-tat diplomacy routine and does bring to mind a popular Chinese proverb that literally translates to “no 300 taels of silver buried here.”

It comes from the story of a man who cunningly buried his life savings and then put up a big sign saying “no 300 bits of silver buried here.”

There is a message buried here somewhere

Lu did, however, break with tradition in a slightly ominous note for Kovrig, suggesting on Wednesday that the ICG had not registered in China, suggesting the nongovernmental organisation founded by former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans was in breach of one of China’s myriad laws on foreign nongovernmental agencies operating inside China.

The escalating tit-for-tat from Beijing seems sure to be the latest unspoken retaliation by Beijing for the arrest of Meng, who is suspected of violating US sanctions on Iran and of misleading banks and investors regarding a second company, possibly the Huawei subsidiary Skycom, that was making sales to Iran.

Meng posted bail in Vancouver and is now with her family there, according to a post Wednesday reportedly from her WeChat account.


“I’m in Vancouver, by my family’s side. I’m proud of Huawei, and proud of my home country. Thanks to everyone who has been concerned about me. Meng Wanzhou,” the WeChat post said, alongside a Huawei advertisement featuring a ballerina’s training scars.

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