Michael Spavor, a Canadian whose company brings tourists and ice hockey players into North Korea, has gone missing in China, prompting speculation that he was detained as another reprisal by China for the arrest of Huawei’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou.
Canada’s foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland said a Canadian man had contacted government officials after being questioned by Chinese authorities.
“We haven’t been able to make contact with him since he let us know about this,” Ms Freeland told a news conference in Ottawa. “We are working very hard to ascertain his whereabouts and we have also raised this case with Chinese authorities.”
Mr Spavor went missing days after Beijing’s detention of Michael Kovrig, who was working for the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) and was on leave from the Canadian foreign ministry.
The Chinese government warned Canada of “serious consequences” over the arrest of Ms Meng, who is the daughter of Huawei founder Shi Zhengfei. Ms Meng was freed on bail this week.
Mr Spavor is well known in China, and helped organise the visit to North Korea by former basketball star Dennis Rodman. He and Mr Kovrig apparently know each other.
Canadian authorities still don’t know what Mr Kovrig is charged with or where he is being held.
ICG said he was carrying out “objective and impartial” research.
It’s possible he has been held under recent rule changes that keep non-governmental organisations in China on a tight leash.
ICG closed its Beijing operations in December 2016 because of the new Chinese law, and Mr Kovrig was operating out of its Hong Kong office.
However, it is believed that Mr Kovrig was detained by state security officers, who deal with more serious offences such as state subversion, rather than officers from the public security bureau.
China said ICG was not authorised to work in China.
“We welcome foreign travellers. But if they engage in activities that clearly violate Chinese laws and regulations, then it is totally another story,” foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang told a news briefing.
Although she has been freed on bail, the arrest of Ms Meng continues to make headlines in China and officials have renewed their call for her release.
The Global Times said in an editorial that Canada should release Ms Meng to show it wasn’t a “vassal state”.
“Canada should distance itself from US hegemonism and fulfill its obligations to help maintain international order and protect human rights. As a country having diplomatic ties with China, Canada should not violate China’s sovereignty by placing the ‘long-arm jurisdiction’ of a third country above Beijing’s basic rights,” it said.
“If Canada eventually fails to protect the safety of Chinese citizens within its territory – the country’s basic duty – and ignores ties with China, insisting on the extradition of Meng to the US, it is bound to pay for it. We believe that Ottawa has foreseen this and so has the world,” the commentary ran.
Ms Meng faces charges in the US that she misled multinational banks about Huawei’s activities in Iran.
Ms Freeland criticised US president Donald Trump for remarks he made about the case, saying he was prepared to intervene in the case if it served China’s interests.
“Our extradition partners should not seek to politicise the extradition process or use it for ends other than the pursuit of justice and following the rule of law,” Ms Freeland said, adding that Mr Trump’s remarks could be used by Ms Meng’s lawyers in the extradition court hearings.
The Canadian government is reportedly mulling whether to issue a new travel warning to Canadians visiting China but no decision has yet been made.
Ms. Freeland told reporters that the current advisory urges Canadian to exercise a “high degree of caution” when considering whether to visit China. She urged Canadians to keep checking the government’s travel website for any update.