Michael Spavor is a Canadian man detained in China following the arrest of a Chinese Huawei executive in Canada, CNN reported.
China’s Foreign Ministry confirmed that the country is detaining Spavor and said he is being “investigated” on suspicion of “activities that endangered China’s national security.”
China earlier detained Michael Kovrig, a former Canadian diplomat, following the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Canada.
“As far as I know, Beijing State Security Bureau and Liaoning State Security Department notified the Canadian Embassy separately, and the two persons’ legal rights and interests have been guaranteed.” Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said.
Spavor is the founder of the Paektu Cultural Exchange, which helps arrange trips to North Korea. He was seen with Dennis Rodman meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last year.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Michael Spavor Accused of ‘Endangering’ China’s National Security
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang announced Thursday that Spavor was “being investigated” on suspicion of “activities that endangered China’s national security,” CNN reported.
Lu said Spavor was being held in detention.
The detention came after Canada arrested a top Chinese executive. North Korea expert Andrei Lankov, who works as a professor at South Korea’s Kookmin University, told CNN that the two countries are engaged in a “hostage game.”
“I’m a bit surprised they (the Chinese government) chose Michael, who is from very humble origins,” Lankov said. “He’s definitely not the son of a CEO of a major Canadian company.”
Spavor is best known as the founder of Paektu Cultural Exchange, which arranges trips to North Korea and set up former NBA star Dennis Rodman’s meeting with Kim Jong Un.
2. Michael Spavor’s Detention Came After China Detained Diplomat Michael Kovrig
China also detained Michael Kovrig on Monday. Lu said that Kovrig and Spavor were detained as part of an “operation taken by China’s relevant national security authorities in accordance with the laws”.
“I can point out that, since the Canadian government took the wrong action at the request of the US and took Meng Wanzhou into custody, many Chinese are wondering if their trips to Canada are safe,” he added.
Kovrig is a former diplomat who now works for the think tank International Crisis Group.
Lu said that Kovrig’s company did not register as a non-governmental organization in China and said it was illegal for them to work there.
Hugh Pope, director of communications and outreach for the firm, told CNN that the company closed up shop in China in 2016 to comply with the law. Pope said Kovrig works in Hong Kong, which has a different legal framework than the rest of mainland China, but regularly visits Beijing “to meet officials, attend conferences at the invitation of Chinese organizations, and on personal visits.”
“Frankly, we were really surprised by this arrest after a decade of engagement with the Chinese authorities. This is the first time we (have heard of) such an accusation. Our board of trustees includes two Chinese board members,” he said.
“It goes without saying that neither Crisis Group, nor did Michael have anything to do with the Huawei case in Canada. What is clear to us is that Michael has been doing what all Crisis Group experts do: undertaking objective and impartial research — in his case meeting with Chinese officials so that we can represent their views in our work and developing policies that can help end conflicts.”
3. Michael Spavor Arranged The Dennis Rodman-Kim Jong Un Meeting
Spavor is close to the North Korean government and is one of the few westerners to have met Kim Jong Un. He was invited to a large military parade earlier this year even though most foreign media was banned. Spavor was part of former NBA star Dennis Rodman’s entourage when he traveled to meet Kim.
Spavor later told Reuters the visit was a “blast.”
“That was the most amazing experience I’ve had in my life… we hung out for three days,” he said.
Images posted to Instagram show him speaking with Kim while sharing Long Island Iced Teas on Kim’s private yacht.
Spavor told The Asia Times that he mostly takes delegations of investors to North Korea to meet potential business partners.
“There has been a definite surge of interest among my North Korean partners in doing business across the border,” he said. “I have been working with Chinese and Chinese-Korean investors, they are now very interested.”
4. Spavor, Kovrig Detentions Come After Top Huawei Executive Detained in China
Experts say Spavor and Kovrig were detained as retaliation for the arrest of Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou in Canada. Meng is the daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhenfei.
Meng was arrested while flying from Hong Kong to Mexico through Vancouver, CNN reported. Canadian officials arrested Meng at the United States government’s request for violating sanctions against Iran. She has since been released on $7.4 million bail but now faces extradition to the United States.
The United States has been investigating Huawei, one of the largest phone manufacturers in the world, for potentially violating the Iran sanctions.
The United States believes the company used the subsidiary Skycom to trick American banks into clearing transactions that were actually for Huawei.
Meng’s lawyers told a Canadian court that Huawei was no longer associated with Skycom.
Meng faces 30 years in prison in the United States if she’s found guilty.
5. Experts Say China is Retaliating Over Meng’s Arrest
Foreign policy experts say there is no doubt the detention of Kovrig and Spavor are in retaliation for Meng’s arrest.
Guy Saint-Jacques, Canada’s former ambassador to China, told the CBC that, “In China there are no coincidences… If they want to send you a message, they will send you a message.”
Another Western diplomat in China told Reuters that the move was a “political kidnapping.”
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