WASHINGTON — The Chinese government has detained a third Canadian citizen, escalating a diplomatic crisis in which it is pushing the United States to relent on legal pressure against one of China’s leading technology companies.
Canadian consular officials are providing assistance to the family of the latest detainee, a spokesman for Global Affairs Canada, the country’s foreign ministry, said on Wednesday. The spokesman declined to identify the detainee or provide more details.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, said at a regularly scheduled news conference in Beijing on Wednesday that the ministry had no information on the case.
Chinese security agencies detained two other Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, on Dec. 10. Chinese officials have suggested in public comments that the agencies are looking into potential national security charges.
But by all appearances, the detentions appear to be retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei, the giant Chinese technology company, on Dec. 1, as Ms. Meng was in transit in Vancouver between Hong Kong and Mexico.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada said on Wednesday that the third case did not appear to be related to the other two.
“The two situations are very different,” he said at a news conference in Ottawa. “The allegations of national security problems, even objectively, is very different from a routine case or a problem with a visa or something of that nature.”Michael Kovrig was one of two other Canadians detained by Chinese security agencies.CreditJulie David de Lossy/Crisis Group
Ms. Meng, who is also the daughter of Huawei’s founder, was arrested at the behest of the United States. At her bail hearing, a Canadian official said Ms. Meng had been accused by the Americans of tricking banks into transactions involving Huawei-controlled entities that violated United States sanctions against Iran.
Ms. Meng is out on bail now. A court is expected to rule whether Canada will extradite her to the United States.
The Chinese government has said Ms. Meng is being wrongfully held and should be released immediately, and has accused the United States of pursuing Ms. Meng for political purposes.
The Canadian government has not publicly drawn any links between the detentions of the Canadians and the arrest of Ms. Meng.
But on Dec. 13, the Chinese ambassador to Canada, Lu Shaye, explicitly tied the actions when he wrote in an op-ed in the Globe and Mail: “Those who accuse China of detaining some person in retaliation for the arrest of Ms. Meng should first reflect on the actions of the Canadian side. It is both ignominious and hypocritical to revile China with double standards.”
Mr. Kovrig is a China researcher for the International Crisis Group, a conflict and foreign policy research organization. He was living in Hong Kong and had a visa to enter mainland China.
He was on leave from Global Affairs Canada, where he had done postings abroad as a diplomat, including in China.Michael Spavor was detained on Dec. 10 by Chinese security agencies.CreditAssociated Press
Mr. Kovrig was visiting Beijing when he was detained by the Ministry of State Security, the main Chinese spy agency, which also does counterintelligence, said the crisis group.
Rob Malley, president and chief executive of the group, said Mr. Kovrig had been open with Chinese officials about his work, all of which can be read online.
“Michael led two successive professional lives in China — first as a diplomat for Canada and next as a researcher for Crisis Group,” he said in an interview on Monday.
“His detention means one of two things,” Mr. Malley said. “Either he is being charged retroactively for engaging in activities that all diplomats engage in, or for engaging in the open, transparent work that many others routinely engage in. In either case, the message being sent — to businesspeople, diplomats, academics and others who wish to deal with China — is chilling.”
The second detainee, Mr. Spavor, is an entrepreneur and writer living near North Korea in northeast China’s Liaoning Province.
Mr. Spavor was running a travel business that took people to North Korea, and had helped arrange a trip by Dennis Rodman, the former basketball player, to Pyongyang, where Mr. Rodman met with Kim Jong-un, the young North Korean leader.
Mr. Spavor has also met with Mr. Kim and had posted a photograph of the two online.
American officials have been looking into Huawei for years, and more recently national security officials from the United States have been pressing other countries not to use Huawei technology for next-generation wireless networks, saying it poses a potential security threat.
Administration officials say the sanctions case against Huawei being brought by the Justice Department is separate from other security concerns.
President Trump complicated the Justice Department case against Ms. Meng and Huawei on Dec. 11 when he overtly politicized it by saying he might intervene in the case if he thought China would settle a monthslong trade war with the United States.
“If I think it’s good for the country, if I think it’s good for what will be certainly the largest trade deal ever made — which is a very important thing — what’s good for national security — I would certainly intervene if I thought it was necessary,” Mr. Trump told Reuters in an interview in the Oval Office.
That statement handed Ms. Meng’s lawyer an argument against her extradition.
The Canadian foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, has said repeatedly that Canada arrested Mr. Meng because of its extradition agreement with the United States, and that a Canadian court will decide whether to extradite her based solely on legal rationale.
“It is also very important for Canada that extradition agreements are not used for political purposes,” Ms. Freeland said at a news conference last Friday in Washington. “In Canada, there has been, to this point, no political interference in this issue at all.”
Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, said at the same news conference that the United States had raised the cases of the Canadian detainees with China and asked for their release.
Chinese security agencies have long engaged in the arbitrary detentions of foreign citizens, and in January, the United States issued a travel warning.
Donald Clarke, a professor at George Washington University who studies Chinese law, wrote this week that China had taken the Canadians as hostages, in hopes Canada would exchange Ms. Meng for them.
“You cannot just go around arresting innocent people and holding them hostage,” Mr. Clarke wrote in a Washington Post op-ed. “That is the mark of a thuggish state, not a permanent member of the Security Council. If detaining two Canadians is an acceptable response, how about 20 or 200?”