Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday blasted China over its detention of two Canadians who were widely believed to have been given harsh sentences as political retribution for the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou. The pair have also been described as "bargaining chips" being used of Beijing in tense tit-for-tat dealings with the West.
Blinken called for the immediate and unconditional release of Canadian citizens Michael Spavor and Michael Kavrog - often referred to as the Two Michaels, who've been detained in China since December 2018. A hasty closed-door court sentencing session in Dandong of entrepreneur Michael Spavor has given him 11 years in prison on espionage charges. He was found guilty of "probing into and illegally providing state secrets." China's moving forward with Kovrig and Spavor's cases, despite international condemnation for the trumped up charges, appears to be in lockstep with the Huawei CFO's legal proceedings.
"If she is turned over to the United States, then they’ll be in China for a very long time," former Canadian foreign affairs minister John Manley was cited in Global News as saying of Meng. It's clearly no coincidence given the pair were arrested in China a mere 10 days after Meng Wanzhou's detention in Vancouver.
Blinken said in condemning Beijing's actions: "In my discussions with [People’s Republic of China] officials, I have raised several cases of both US and Canadian citizens subject to arbitrary detentions and exit bans in China, and I strongly support the immediate and unconditional release of all those whom the People’s Republic of China has arbitrarily detained," according to The Hill.
Perhaps the most biting charge was Blinken's assertion that China's is viewing the detained Canadians as "bargaining chips":
"The practice of arbitrarily detaining individuals to exercise leverage over foreign governments is completely unacceptable. People should never be used as bargaining chips."
The Biden administration has been working in close consultation with Canada over efforts to release "the Michael's".
VIDEO: Canada's Ambassador to China Dominic Barton arrives outside the Dandong Detention Centre ahead of a verdict expected in the trial of Canadian businessman Michael Spavor who has been detained on spying charges pic.twitter.com/yzDwmShgSb— AFP News Agency (@AFP) August 11, 2021
Separately on Tuesday a Chinese court upheld the death sentence for Robert Schellenberg – previously arrested in 2014 and initially sentenced to 15 years in prison in late 2018. His case has also driven world headlines given it's a death penalty case for non violent crime.
He was found guilty of drug smuggling and its widely perceived he was later given the max sentence as a 'message' to Canada and the US, akin to the politicization of The Michaels' cases.