OTTAWA -- Chinese Ambassador to Canada Cong Peiwu says concerns around the treatment of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, who have been detained in China for more than a year, are inflated and inaccurate.

“Their legal rights are protected, so there is nothing like mistreatment, it’s just hype up of the stories,” said Cong in an interview with CTV’s Question Period host Evan Solomon airing Sunday.

Spavor, an entrepreneur, and Kovrig, a former diplomat, were arrested in China in December 2018, shortly after the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver.

The two Canadians were accused of violating state secret laws, yet politicians and diplomats alike have called it an unlawful, retaliatory play for Meng’s arrest, which was carried out by the RCMP at the request of U.S. authorities.

The reported state of the Canadians’ confinement has, at the very best, been equated to a gross violation of human rights, and at the worst, torture. Neither has had access to legal counsel, contact with family, and for the first six months, sunlight.

“That’s somebody’s account but for us, I have made it clear, their legal rights have been preserved,” Cong said. “There is nothing like mistreatment of those two citizens from Canada.”

He called the U.S. extradition case against Meng a political front, shielding broader issues between the two superpowers.

“The nature of these two cases is different,” Cong said. “So for Meng’s case, we have maintained from the very beginning this is not a judicial case at all, it’s a serious political incident, plotted by the United States.”

U.S. President Donald Trump has maintained the charges are based on fraudulent activity and the company’s work in Iran, which is under American economic sanctions.

“Canada also kind of misused the extradition treaty between Canada and the United States,” Cong said. “We are supposed to make sure that we safeguard the legitimate rights of our citizens.”

The Canadian government maintains they are in talks with Chinese officials about the release of Spavor and Kovrig. Newly minted Canadian Ambassador to China Dominic Barton has also paid frequent visits to the detention centre where they’re held.

On Thursday, Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne met with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Munich, Germany, on the sidelines of a global security conference.

“Minister Champagne raised the cases of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, which are a priority for the Government of Canada,” read the press release. “The two ministers also discussed China’s response to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.”


Responding to reports that China withheld information about the actual number of coronavirus cases within its borders, leading to a sharp rise in the tally, Cong said standards of diagnosis simply changed.

“[It] means more patients can be treated at an earlier date, so that’s good for cutting the spread of the virus,” he said. “When it comes to the figures, they are transparent and I think we are also approaching the issue with transparency and openness from the very beginning.”

He added that China “promptly” made every effort to share all available information to the World Health Organization and relevant countries about the disease and its spread.

Following the death of Chinese doctor Li Wenliang, who first alerted authorities in Beijing about the scale of the virus only to become infected himself, posts on social media erupted calling for accountability.

Cong said he is “saddened by the news” but there is no hiding of information.

“We are encouraging people to speak out, to speak the truth and for the outside world, we are also approaching the issue with openness.”


In a parliamentary committee appearance in Ottawa last week, Ambassador Barton said the “chill is real” between Canada and China, particularly in the days and months after the detainment of the “two Michaels” -- Kovrig and Spavor -- but it’s come around.

"The first conversation I had was probably one of the most unpleasant conversations I have ever had,” said Barton. “I hope that our efforts will soon bear fruit.”

Cong said the relationship between the two countries is facing “difficulties” because of “something done on the Canadian side.”

“We do hope the Canadian side will take our recommendations seriously and takes measures to make sure that the relationship gets back on track.”

Whether Canada allows Huawei into its 5G network, a decision the government is mulling over as the U.S. continues to campaign globally for the company’s exclusion, will be another test to the already unstable relationship.