In this image made from video taken on March 2, 2017, Michael Spavor, director of Paektu Cultural Exchange, talks during a Skype interview in Yangi, China. (AP Photo)

Canadian officials visit again one of detained Canadians in China

Canadian consular officials in China visited for the second time on Tuesday one of the two Canadians detained by Chinese security services following the arrest in Canada of a top Chinese telecom executive last month, according to a government spokesperson.

“Today, Canadian consular officials in China visited with Michael Spavor,” said in a statement Global Affairs Canada spokesperson Amy Mills.

“Canadian consular officials continue to provide consular services to him and his family and will continue to seek further access to Mr. Spavor. Due to the provisions of the Privacy Act, no further information can be disclosed.”

Spavor, a China-based Canadian entrepreneur, and former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig were detained by Chinese authorities on Dec. 10, days after Canadian officials arrested Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese telecom giant Huawei, at the request of U.S. authorities.

Meng, who is also the daughter of company founder Ren Zhengfei, could face extradition to the U.S. over allegations she was involved in violating sanctions on Iran, with each charge carrying a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.

She was released on bail by a Canadian court after she agreed to post a $10-million bail, surrender her passports and abide by more than a dozen conditions.

Chinese officials said Spavor and Kovrig are being investigated for “endangering national security.”

Canada’s ambassador in China, John McCallum, visited both men for the first time in mid-December.

Seeking consular access to second Canadian

Michael Kovrig took a leave of absence from Global Affairs Canada to work for non-governmental think tank International Crisis Group as an expert on North East Asia. (International Crisis Group)

Canadian consular officials continue to provide consular services Kovrig and his family and will continue to seek further access to him as well, Mills said.

“The Canadian government remains deeply concerned by the arbitrary detention by Chinese authorities of these two Canadians since last month and continues to call for their immediate release,” Mills said.

“Canada continues to express its appreciation to those who have spoken in support of these detained individuals and the rule of law, including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the EU, the United States, and Australia.”

The news of the second consular visit to Spavor comes just a day after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau discussed the “arbitrary arrests” of the two Canadians in a telephone conversation with Trump, during which the U.S. president reiterated his support for calls for their immediate release.

It also comes as a Canadian parliamentary delegation is currently visiting China in an attempt to contain the spiraling tensions between Beijing and Ottawa.

According to the Global Affairs statement, consular visits generally aim to assess the well-being of the person being detained, clarify the reason for the detention, provide guidance on legal issues and act as a link between the detainee and loved ones.

A cultural fixer

Michael Spavor, (in blue jacket), organises trips to North Korea such as this high profile trip of American basketball star Dennis Rodman (L). He has met on several occasions with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. (facebook.com/mpspavor

Spavor, who ran a non-profit organization that organized cultural and sports exchanges with Pyongyang, was arrested by the State Security Bureau of Dandong City, Liaoning Province, near the border with North Korea.

He came to international prominence by organizing the visits to North Korea of former basketball star Dennis Rodman in 2013 and 2014.

The website for Paektu Cultural Exchange, the organization Spavor founded, says it is “dedicated to facilitating sustainable co-operation, cross-cultural exchanges, tourism, trade, and economic exchanges between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) and international organizations, businesses, and individuals.”

According to the website, Spavor has spent more than 20 years living in both North and South Korea. It says he speaks Korean and French fluently and is learning Chinese.

“In 2013 and 2014, he organized the Dennis Rodman visits, and the basketball match between the DPRK and former NBA players, where he also became friends with the country’s leader Marshal Kim Jong Un,” the website states.

Spavor’s personal Facebook page contains several images of him with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, including one of him with both Kim and Rodman at an undisclosed location. Another image shows the two sharing a drink with the North Korean leader.

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