Politics

Chinese spy trial of Canadian ends

The trial of Canadian citizen Michael Spavor, detained by China since late 2018 on suspicion of espionage, has ended after a closed-court hearing in a case embroiled in a wider diplomatic spat between Washington and Beijing.

Spavor and his lawyer appeared for the two-hour hearing and the court will later set a date to issue a verdict, the Dandong Intermediate People’s Court said in a statement on its website.

Chinese courts have a conviction rate of over 99 per cent.

The 45-year-old Canadian businessman was not seen outside the court and there was no word on his condition.

China arrested Spavor and fellow Canadian Michael Kovrig in December 2018, soon after Canadian police detained Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Chinese tech giant Huawei Technologies, on a US warrant.

Beijing insists the detentions are not linked to the arrest of Meng, who remains under house arrest in Vancouver as she fights extradition to the United States.

Kovrig, a former diplomat, is due to go on trial on Monday in Beijing.

Police set up a cordon on Friday morning outside the court.

Officials from the Canadian embassy and other nations including the US, Netherlands, the UK, France, Denmark, Australia, Sweden and Germany were present outside the court as they sought access to the hearing. They were not allowed to enter.

Canadian officials last saw Spavor on February 3 and had made multiple requests to see him ahead of the trial, but those requests were denied.

Observers have said the likely convictions of the two men could ultimately facilitate a diplomatic agreement whereby the two men are released and sent back to Canada.

Guy Saint-Jacques, a former Canadian ambassador to Beijing, said the timing of the trials was clearly designed to coincide with the talks between the United States and China, which wants to pressure the Biden administration to arrange for Meng’s release.

In a statement, Spavor’s family called for the unconditional release of both men.

“Michael is just an ordinary Canadian businessman who has done extraordinary things to build constructive ties between Canada, China and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” they said.

“He loved living and working in China and would never have done anything to offend the interests of China or the Chinese people.”

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