China’s Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that it had no information about a former Canadian diplomat detained in Beijing in apparent retaliation for Canada’s arrest of a leading Chinese executive.
While declining to confirm the detention of Michael Kovrig, ministry spokesman Lu Kang said the International Crisis Group, where Kovrig is a Hong-Kong-based analyst, was not registered in China and its activities in the country were illegal.
Kovrig was previously a diplomat in China and elsewhere. His current employer said he was taken into custody by the Beijing Bureau of Chinese State Security, which handles intelligence and counterintelligence matters in the Chinese capital, on Monday night during one of his regular visits to Beijing.
“I do not have information to provide you here,” Lu said when asked about Kovrig. “If there is such a thing, please do not worry, it is assured that China’s relevant departments will definitely handle it according to law.”
Because Kovrig’s organization is not registered as a nongovernmental organization in China, “once its staff become engaged in activities in China, it has already violated the law,” Lu said.
Lu also repeated China’s demand for the immediate release of Meng Wanzhou, a leading executive with Chinese communications equipment maker Huawei, which has strong connections to the Chinese government and military.
“Our request is very clear, that is, the Canadian side should immediately release the detained Ms. Meng Wanzhou and to protect her legitimate rights and interests,” Lu said.
Meng was detained Dec. 1 at the request of the U.S., which accuses Huawei of using a Hong Kong shell company to sell equipment to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions.
Her case has set off a diplomatic furor among the three countries and complicated high-stakes U.S.-China trade talks. She was granted bail on Monday.
Rob Malley, president of the group, said Canadian consular officers had not been given access yet to Kovrig.
Malley said he thinks Kovrig was in Beijing on personal matters at the time of his arrest and was definitely not there for any illegal purpose or for any reason that would undermine Chinese national security.
The Brussels-based NGO said it had not received any information about him since his arrest.
Canadian Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale confirmed the detention and said Canada is very concerned.