The Chinese government will put two Canadians on trial for espionage within days, despite international calls for their release. Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were arrested in 2018 in what was widely seen as retaliation for the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, an executive and the daughter of the founder of Chinese tech giant Huawei, in Vancouver. Canadian authorities had acted at the request of the US, which wants Meng extradited to face fraud charges over Huawei's dealings with Iran. But China sees this as an attempt to injure one of its most successful companies. While Meng is fighting extradition under house arrest at a Vancouver mansion, Kovrig and Spavor, often referred to as the "two Michaels," have been mostly held in confinement, per Reuters and the New York Times. Spavor's family says he's had only "very limited access" to lawyers. His trial is set to begin on Friday in Dandong, with Kovrig's to start on Monday in Beijing.
"We believe these detentions are arbitrary and remain deeply troubled by the lack of transparency surrounding these proceedings," says Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau. The Canadians are almost certain to be convicted, as China's conviction rate is "well over 99%," per Reuters. The linked cases will likely be discussed during meetings between US and Chinese officials starting Thursday in Alaska. Representing Washington is US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who's called for the men's immediate release, per CNN. But one expert tells the Times that China is "more likely to release them after vindicating its judicial sovereignty by convicting them." Still, Kovrig's wife, Vina Nadjibulla, says there's no time to waste. "If we, Canada and the US, don't intervene to secure their freedom, they will remain in great peril," she tells the Times. (China has sentenced four Canadians to death since 2018.)