China on Monday lashed out at Canada and the US for demanding the release of detained Canadians and accused Western countries of double standards.
“The Chinese side expressed strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition to the statements made by Canada and the US,” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a regular press briefing.
Beijing this month detained two Canadians — former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and China-based businessman Michael Spavor — whom they accuse of engaging in activities that “endanger China’s security”.
Kovrig is a senior advisor at the International Crisis Group think tank, while Spavor facilitates trips to North Korea, including visits by former basketball star Dennis Rodman.
Though no link has been officially made, the arrests seem to be in retaliation to Canada’s December 1 arrest of Meng Wanzhou, a top executive at Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei.
A third Canadian, a woman named Sarah McIver, is also being held pending deportation for working illegally in China.
France’s government on Monday also expressed its concern over the arrests, demanding Kovrig and Spavor were treated fairly.
“We are concerned about the arrest of two Canadian nationals in China shortly after the detention of Ms Meng Wanzhou,” French foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll said in a statement.
“We call on Chinese authorities to ensure they are treated in a fair and transparent manner and that their rights to defence are respected.”
Canada’s foreign minister Chrystia Freeland on Saturday called on allies for support in securing the release of the detained Canadians, adding that the arrests set a “worrying precedent” for the entire international community.
Britain, Germany and the European Union have all issued statements expressing concerns about what are believed to be tit-for-tat arrests.
The EU said the “declared motive” for the arrest and detention of Kovrig and Spavor “raises concerns about legitimate research and business practices in China”.
Representatives of six Berlin-based think tanks, including the European Council for Foreign Relations and the German Marshall Fund, expressed concern about the detention of the Canadians, saying that it increases “uncertainty and distrust”.
But Hua Monday dismissed these concerns, saying the countries seem to have “different human rights standards for citizens of different countries”.
“What does this matter have to do with the UK or the EU?
“Where were they when the Canadian side illegally detained Chinese business executives at the request of the US?” she added.
Meng has been released on bail pending the outcome of an extradition hearing. The United States — which is locked in a bruising trade war with Beijing — has accused her of violating sanctions on Iran.
She is now living under electronic surveillance in a luxury home in Vancouver, welcoming visitors daily and updating her social media page, while Kovrig and Spavor have been held under more difficult conditions and denied access to lawyers.