Two Canadians detained in China on spy charges allowed calls with relatives

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Two Canadians detained in China for over two years on spying charges were allowed to call their families out of “humanitarian considerations” over Christmas, Beijing said on Thursday.

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Relations between Beijing and Ottawa have spiraled since China detained former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor in 2018 -- days after the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver on fraud charges.

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While languishing in detention, the pair have had virtually no contact with the outside world. Virtual consular visits only resumed in October after a nine-month hiatus which authorities said was due to the coronavirus.

“The Chinese authorities in charge of the case agreed to allow Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor to have phone calls with their family during the Christmas holiday in light of humanitarian considerations,” said foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian at a routine briefing.

“The two men and their families expressed their deep gratitude for this.”

Charges against the two Canadians -- who have been accused of espionage -- are widely perceived in the West as retaliation for Meng’s arrest, although China has denied this.

Beijing has insisted their detentions are lawful, while calling Meng’s case “a purely political incident.”

Meng was released on bail with conditions that include a curfew in her Vancouver mansion and that she wear a GPS monitoring ankle bracelet.

On Thursday, Canadian officials confirmed her husband and two children were allowed to join her late last year, granted travel exemptions to enter Canada despite Covid-19 restrictions.

Last month, the Wall Street Journal reported that the US was in talks with Huawei over possibly allowing Meng to return to China if she admits to some of the charges.

The deal could also pave the way for the release of the two Canadians, the Journal said, citing people familiar with the matter.

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