China Formally Charges ‘Two Michaels’ with Espionage

Indictments come after 557 days in detention . . . 

Prosecutors in China announced Friday that they will pursue the indictment of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. Kovrig was charged by Beijing on suspicion of spying for state secrets and intelligence. Spavor was charged on suspicion of spying for a foreign entity and illegally providing state secrets. Beijing has detained Kovrig and Spavor in solitary confinement since December 2018. International observers have long linked the detention of the ‘two Michaels’ to Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou’s extradition proceedings in Canada. Friday’s announcement came a few weeks after B.C.’s Supreme Court ruled that Meng’s case could go forward. Charges of spying for foreign entities carry sentences from 10 years to life in prison. China’s judicial system has a conviction rate of over 99 per cent.

Canada “disappointed” and “deeply concerned”. . .

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that he was “disappointed” about the development and that his government would continue to work “behind the scenes in very direct and firm ways” for the release of the two men. Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne later issued a statement expressing deep concern over the lack of consular access to the detainees since mid-January. A negotiated release had been possible until Friday because Chinese prosecutors could drop the cases, but an indictment signals the beginning of formal legal proceedings and would make negotiating a release much more difficult.

What next?

Despite calls to take a tougher stance on China, the Canadian government has so far ruled out retaliation. Compared to some of its allies, such as the U.S. and the U.K, Canada has also been less vocal about concerns over China’s initial COVID-19 response and the new national security law in Hong Kong. The next point of conflict could be Huawei’s role – or lack thereof – in Canada’s 5G network. The federal government has so far waffled on an outright ban, but major Canadian telecom companies have taken matters into their own hands by signing deals with Huawei rivals such as Ericsson, Nokia, and Samsung. Depending on the outcome of Meng’s extradition proceedings and Ottawa’s decision on Huawei, further Chinese retaliation remains a possibility.