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Trade war

US to warn on China travel after detention of Canadian

Apprehension of ex-diplomat seen as retaliation for Huawei CFO's arrest

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK -- China has detained a former Canadian diplomat in what is seen as retaliation for the arrest of Huawei Technologies' chief financial officer in British Columbia, triggering the U.S. to consider issuing a warning for its citizens traveling to the Asian country.

The move marks a rapid deterioration of relations, after U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed on a trade war truce in Argentina on Dec. 1.

Michael Kovrig, a former Canadian diplomat, was apprehended in Beijing, according to reports on Tuesday.

Reuters reported that the U.S. State Department is considering issuing the advisory for American business executives and other travelers. 

"The United States is concerned by these reports that a Canadian citizen has been detained in China," State Department spokesman Robert Palladino told reporters on Tuesday. "We've urged China to end all forms of arbitrary detention and to respect the protections and freedoms of all individuals under China's international human rights and consular commitments."

In this image made from a video taken on March 28, 2018, International Crisis Group adviser Michael Kovrig speaks during an interview in Hong Kong.    © AP

International Crisis Group, the Brussels-based think tank that Kovrig works for, said, "We are doing everything possible to secure additional information on Michael's whereabouts as well as his prompt and safe release." 

A senior adviser on Northeast Asia, Kovrig has worked at the organization since 2017 and lives in Hong Kong.

Canada's Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale confirmed that the government was aware a Canadian citizen was detained in China, but he provided no details on who it was.

Saying he was "deeply concerned," Goodale added there was "no explicit indication at this moment" that the Canadian's detention was linked to the arrest of Huawei's CFO Meng Wanzhou. Canadian officials have relayed their concerns to Chinese authorities about the detention.

Meanwhile, Meng, who was arrested in Vancouver on Dec. 1, appeared in court Tuesday for her bail hearing. She is suspected of misleading financial institutions about transactions in Iran that violate U.S. sanctions.

China has strongly objected to Meng's arrest. Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in a speech Tuesday that Beijing would "spare no effort" to protect against "any bullying that infringes the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese citizens." 

Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang also expressed China's discontent with Canada's handling of the situation. He said Beijing was not contacted when Meng was detained, a violation of their consular agreement, and that the government learned of her arrest by other means.

Over the weekend, the American and Canadian ambassadors to China were summoned to protest the arrest. China told the U.S. that it would take additional action based on how Washington responds, but warned Canada of "serious consequences" if Meng is not released and that Ottawa will have to "bear the full responsibility of it."

A diplomatic source in Beijing told Nikkei in the days before Kovrig's arrest that it would not be a surprise if a Canadian were detained given the situation.

But the Chinese Communist Party wants to "avoid a head-on confrontation" with the U.S. as it prepares for new trade talks with Washington. On the other hand, it sees no need to hold its punches with Canada. The apprehension of Kovrig is seen as a retaliatory measure that prevents Meng's extradition to the U.S. by putting maximum pressure on Canada.

Huawei is accused of violating U.S. sanctions in Iran from 2009 to 2014 through Hong Kong-based affiliate Skycom Tech, according to U.S. prosecution material. Meng allegedly lied to financial institutions about Huawei's relationship with Skycom, saying the companies were not related. As a result, at least $100 million worth of Skycom transactions were given clearance.

U.S. sanctions forbid financial institutions from conducting any transactions in Iran.

The U.S. government has cracked down on the actions of foreign companies and individuals, even those taken outside its borders, through domestic laws targeting corruption and terrorism. Media outlets have criticized Meng's arrest as a symbol of how the U.S. uses its own laws to police the world.

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