February 29, 2024

Canadian businessman Michael Spavor.

Kim Kyung-Hoon | Reuters

WASHINGTON – The United States issued a harsh condemnation Wednesday after a Chinese court sentenced Canadian businessman Michael Spavor to 11 years in prison for espionage in a case embroiled in a broader diplomatic feud between Washington and Beijing.

Foreign Secretary Antony Blinken condemned the trial of Spavor and Michael Kovrig, a former Canadian diplomat charged with espionage.

“We join our partners in condemning Beijing’s conviction of Canadian citizen Michael Spavor and calling on Beijing to immediately release Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, both of whom have been arbitrarily detained for more than two and a half years,” Blinken said in a statement. “People aren’t trading chips.”

Chinese authorities arrested Spavor and Kovrig in late 2018, days after Canada arrested Huawei manager Meng Wanzhou at Vancouver International Airport on a United States arrest warrant for reported violations of American sanctions against Iran.

Meng Wanzhou, Huawei Technologies chief financial officer, reaches for a face mask in her pocket as she leaves her home to attend a trial in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada on March 15, 2021.

Jennifer Gauthier | Reuters

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the court’s conviction of Spavor was “absolutely unacceptable” and called for the release of Spavor and Kovrig.

“The verdict against Mr Spavor comes after more than two and a half years of arbitrary detention, a lack of transparency in the judicial process and a procedure that did not even meet the minimum standards required by international law,” he said.

China has rejected the notion that the Canadians’ arrests are in overt retaliation for the arrest of Huawei.

The espionage trial against Kovrig was concluded in March, and it is unclear when his verdict will be pronounced.

Spavor’s espionage verdict comes as attorneys in Canada representing Meng, chief financial officer of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, work to prevent her possible extradition to the United States.

Meng’s extradition hearings have been in the past few weeks and a verdict is expected in the next few months. Canada’s Justice Minister will finalize her extradition decision.