China: 2 Canadians in prisoner swap freed for health reasons

China Canada US Huawei

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — China’s Foreign Ministry said Monday that two Canadians detained in late 2019 who were allowed to return to Canada in a prisoner swap were released on bail for health reasons.

A ministry spokesperson made the comment as Beijing sought to downplay the connection between their release and the return to China of a long-detained executive of Huawei Technologies.

Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig were detained in December 2019, days after Huawei’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, was arrested in Canada at the request of U.S. authorities.

Many countries labeled China’s action “hostage politics,” while China accused Canada of arbitrary detention. The two Canadians were jailed for more than 1,000 days.

Meng fought the U.S. demand for extradition from Canada. She landed in China on Saturday after reaching a deal with the U.S. Justice Department that led to a prisoner swap.

“The case of Meng Wanzhou is completely different from that of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in nature,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said at a daily briefing on Monday.

The two men were suspected of endangering national security, Hua said.

Spavor, an entrepreneur, had been sentenced to 11 years in prison, accused of spying. Kovrig had not yet been sentenced but was facing similar charges.

China released the two Canadians on bail after a “diagnosis by professional medical institutions, and with the guarantee of the Canadian ambassador to China,” Hua said.

Hua did not answer questions from journalists about whether the prisoner releases were entirely unrelated and what the health reasons were.

Canada has maintained that Kovrig and Spavor were innocent of any charges.

“We continue to oppose the way these two citizens were treated,” Canadian Foreign Minister Marc Garneau told the U.N. General Assembly meeting of world leaders Monday.

He said Spavor and Kovrig “paid a heavy price” because their country "observed the rule of law” in responding to the U.S. extradition request.

Representatives for the two countries traded retorts later Monday on the assembly floor, with China rejecting Canada's take on the affair. Canada continued to insist Kovrig and Spavor were mistreated.

Meng reached an agreement with U.S. federal prosecutors that will drop fraud charges against her next year. In return, she is accepting responsibility for misrepresenting the company’s business dealings in Iran.