March 12 (UPI) — A group of 15 former U.S. federal officials and foreign policy experts have called on China to immediately release former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig, who has been detained 92 days by the Asian country on charges of stealing state secrets.
Kovrig, a senior adviser for the non-government International Crisis Group, and businessman Michael Spavor were separately apprehended by Chinese authorities on Dec. 10.
Last week, Chinese news reports stated that Kovrig is accused of using his connections in China to steal state secrets.
The detention of the two Canadian men has been largely seen as retaliation against Canada for having arrested Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou at the request of the U.S. government.
Meng, who is a Chinese national, faces a slew of fraud and sanctions violation charges in her role with the Chinese telecom behemoth in the United States. She is currently out on bail in Vancouver where she has a residence.
The open letter published Monday by the International Crisis Group urges China to release Kovrig immediately in order to simmer tensions between China and the United States.
“At this moment of testing for the bilateral relationship — defined by growing differences and suspicions between our governments — we believe these efforts and the partnerships we’ve built with counterparts in China over many years are more important than ever,” the letter said. “This is why we are particularly concerned by the detention of one of our colleagues, Michael Kovrig.”
The International Crisis Group, for which Kovrig works, has said on its website that “nothing Michael does has harmed China” and that his arrest is “all the more perplexing” given that he has more than a decade of “good and productive engagement with Chinese authorities.”
“Michael’s arrest has a chilling effect on all those who are committed to advance constructive U.S.-China relations,” Monday’s letter said. “We urge China to release Michael so that he can return to his family.”
The signatories to the letter include Prof. Nicholas Burns from Harvard University, former Deputy U.S. Secretary of State William J. Burns and Center for American Progress President Neera Tanden, among others.