Canada’s foreign minister has called the release of two citizens detained in China a “top priority” for his country during a meeting with his Chinese counterpart in Italy.
Relations between Beijing and Ottawa have been increasingly bitter since an executive for Chinese tech giant Huawei was arrested in Vancouver in December 2018 and China detained two Canadian nationals in apparent retaliation.
Canadian foreign minister Francois-Philippe Champagne on Tuesday said the cases of former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor “remain a top priority for the Government of Canada”.
He called for their immediate release at a meeting in Rome with Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi, Ottawa said in a statement.
Kovrig and Spavor were charged with espionage in June, while Beijing has called the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou a political manoeuvre on behalf of the United States, which is seeking her extradition on fraud charges.
China accuses Washington of attempting to curb telecoms firm Huawei’s rise.
Wang said the blame for poor ties lay with Ottawa and urged it to “remove the main obstacles currently affecting the development of China-Canada relations”, according to a statement from the Chinese foreign ministry Wednesday.
“China and Canada have no historical disputes or actual conflict of interest, but because of the unprovoked detention of a Chinese citizen, the relationship between the two countries has encountered serious difficulties,” Wang said, without naming Meng specifically.
Meng, who is charged with bank fraud linked to alleged violations of US sanctions against Iran, remains under house arrest in Vancouver while Canadian courts hear the case for her extradition.
A bid by her lawyers to access intelligence documents to support claims of abuse of process was denied by Canada’s federal court on Tuesday.
Canada’s foreign ministry said in its statement that Champagne had urged China to “grant clemency to all Canadians facing the death penalty in China”.
Beijing has sentenced a number of Canadians to death on drug trafficking charges since last year, saying the cases were handled “independently in strict accordance with the law”.
Wang met with Champagne on the first stop of a European tour this week, during which he is expected to shore up economic and diplomatic relations with the European Union.
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