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China firm over detention of 2 Canadians after FMs meet

BEIJING – China said Wednesday it remains firm in its insistence that Canada make the first move to end the detention of two Canadians, following a meeting of the two countries' foreign ministers.

Former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and Canadian entrepreneur Michael Spavor have been held in China on unspecified national security charges for more than 620 days in apparent retaliation for Canada’s late 2018 arrest of Meng Wanzhou, an executive at tech giant Huawei and the daughter of the company’s founder.

Meng was detained at Vancouver’s airport at the request of the United States, which wants her extradited to face fraud charges over the company’s dealings with Iran. Her arrest enraged Beijing, which calls it a political move aimed at constraining China’s rise as a global technology power.

Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Francois-Philippe Champagne urged Beijing to release the two Canadians during a meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Rome on Tuesday.

The two are suspected of engaging in “activities endangering China’s national security" and their cases are being handled “in strict accordance with the law while protecting their legal rights," foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said at a daily briefing on Wednesday.

China has “made it clear to the Canadian side that it should respect the spirit of the rule of law and China’s judicial sovereignty," Zhao said, adding that China was not responsible for the current difficulties in bilateral relations.

”The Canadian side is well aware of the crux of the problem and should immediately take effective measures to correct the mistakes and create conditions for the bilateral relationship to get back on track," Zhao said.

In addition to detaining Kovrig and Spavor, China has also restricted various Canadian exports to China, including canola seed oil, in an apparent attempt to pressure China into releasing Meng, who is residing in one of her Vancouver mansions under a form of house arrest.

Since her detention, China has also sentenced four Canadians convicted on drug charges to death, an unusually high number for foreign suspects held in China.

While the Canadian government has made no indication it will trade Meng for Kovrig and Spavor, calls have arisen among the Canadian public for a deal to be made.

“The blind adherence to the use of the rule of law and no ransom ensures that Kovrig and Spavor will remain forgotten within Chinese prisons for the foreseeable future," former foreign service officer Gar Pardy wrote in the Ottawa Citizen newspaper last week.

“The offering of Meng Wanzhou in exchange for Kovrig and Spavor is the only answer," Pardy wrote in the opinion piece.

Meanwhile, a Canadian federal court on Tuesday refused a request by Meng's attorneys to release documents they say would help in her fight against extradition by showing abuses in the way she was arrested.

The six documents were redacted by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Canada’s spy agency.

But Judge Catherine Kane found “that information included in the six documents . . . is not relevant to the allegations of abuse of process described by Counsel for Ms. Meng.”

Meng remains free on bail in Vancouver.

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Associated Press writer Jim Morris contributed from Vancouver, Canada.