Canadian consular officials are assisting a third citizen detained by Chinese authorities in the wake of Canada’s arrest of a Chinese tech executive – but Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the latest case doesn’t seem to the fit the pattern of the previous two.
Trudeau added that he favours de-escalating the tensions surrounding the arrest of Huawei chief financial officer Sabrina Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver on December 1.
Global Affairs Canada spokeswoman Maegan Graveline on Wednesday confirmed that the third Canadian national had been detained in China, without giving details of the person’s identity or the nature of the detention.
“Consular officials are providing assistance to the family. Due to the provisions under the Privacy Act, no further information can be disclosed,” Graveline said.
Trudeau said in French it appears to be a routine case, not involving the sort of national security charges listed against the other two. He brought up the possibility of it being a visa issue.
“There are tens of thousands of Canadians that live, travel and work in China,” Trudeau said at a year-end news conference in Ottawa on Wednesday. He added that the new case “doesn’t seem to fit the pattern of facts on the previous two.”
Citing unnamed sources, the National Post had previously reported that the third Canadian detained was neither a diplomatic official, nor or an entrepreneur operating in China.
A government source had earlier said “there is no reason to believe that this case is linked to [two] other recent cases of Canadians detained in China”.
In Beijing on Wednesday, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a daily press briefing she was not aware of the new case.
“I have not heard anything about the situation you have asked about,” Hua said in response to a question concerning the third Canadian citizen being detained in China.
Meng was arrested in Vancouver at the request of the United States and has been released on bail.
Beijing was infuriated by the arrest, warning that Canada would face grave consequences if Meng was not released.
China detained two Canadian citizens on December 10, accusing them of activities “that endanger China’s national security”.
The first was Michael Kovrig, a former Canadian diplomat who is currently a senior adviser on Northeast Asia for International Crisis Group.
Michael Spavor, a businessman based in the Chinese city of Dandong who facilitates visits to North Korea, was also detained. China has not said if Kovrig and Spavor were detained in retaliation for the arrest of Meng.
Asked at what point he would escalate his concerns to China’s President Xi Jinping, Trudeau said on Wednesday that political posturing or statements are not necessarily going to help those detained.
“Escalation or very strong political statements can actually end up being counterproductive too,” Trudeau said. “Escalation and political posturing might be satisfactory in the short term to make yourself seem like you are stomping on the table and doing something significant, but it may not contribute to the outcome we all want.”
China and Canada are negotiating a free-trade agreement, but critics said the arrests would hamper negotiations.
Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute in London, said China’s international image would suffer if its arrests were related to Meng’s case.
“‘Hostage diplomacy’ is repulsive in the international community and any country that practises it will significantly damage its reputation, international image and credibility as an international partner,” he said.
“Being the second most powerful country in the world, China will get away with this more than most countries if they were to do the same, but it will have significant negative consequences.
“With three Canadians being detained multinationals will now have to start to consider or discuss internally if their duty of care to their staff means they need to be more careful with staff being posted to China,” he said.
Additional reporting by Associated Press and AFP.