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Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig were seized by Chinese state security forces for "endangering national security." The move sees Canada being pulled into the tug of war between the US and China.
Two Canadians have been arrested in China on charges of "endangering national security," the country's Foreign Ministry confirmed on Thursday.
Michael Spavor, a China-based business consultant renowned for running trips to North Korea, and former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig were placed under "compulsory measures" on Monday, according to ministry spokesman Lu Kang, using a term that would typically mean they were in custody.
Lu said Canada had been made aware of their arrests, but declined to confirm whether the men had been given access to lawyers.
Their arrests have further strained relations between the United States, Canada and China in a three-way dispute over the arrest of telecom giant Huawei's Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Meng Wanzhou.
Spavor has connections to Kim Jong Un
Spavor was placed under investigation by state security in the northern city of Dandong, which sits on the Yalu River separating China from North Korea.
"We have been unable to make contact since he let us know he was being questioned by Chinese authorities," Canadian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Guillaume Berube told AFP.
Spavor's organization, the Paektu Cultural Exchange program, facilitates sports, cultural, tourism and business trips to North Korea.
He is very well connected in the country, having been photographed enjoying cigars and cocktails with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on his private yacht.
Spavor is also well-known for helping to organize former NBA star Dennis Rodman's trips to meet Kim in 2013 and 2014.
Kovrig's former diplomatic work
Kovrig, believed to be in his late 40s, took leave without pay from the Canadian Foreign Ministry two years ago to take a job at the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based global affairs think tank.
He previously served as first secretary and vice consul at the Canadian Embassy in Beijing from 2014 to 2016, conducting field research into Chinese politics and government policies.
His work sometimes brought him into contact with dissidents, which is common for diplomats but viewed with suspicion by Chinese authorities.
Kovrig, who is based in Hong Kong, was arrested on a trip to Beijing.
Canada's plea to Trump
On Tuesday US President Donald Trump said he would be ready to intervene in Huawei CFO Meng's case if it helped to seal a trade deal with China.
But Canada's Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland hit back, warning the US not to politicize extradition agreements and put Canada under more pressure.
"Our extradition partners should not seek to politicize the extradition process or use it for ends other than the pursuit of justice and following the rule of law," Freeland responded.
Meng was bailed by a court in Vancouver for $7.5 million (€6.6 million) on Tuesday pending an extradition hearing.
am/msh (Reuters, AP, dpa)