SHANGHAI: The International Crisis Group (ICG) said on Wednesday it had received no information from Chinese officials about the detention of its employee, former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig, and that it was seeking consular access to him.
ICG, a policy forum focussed on conflict resolution, said in a statement sent to Reuters Kovrig was detained by state security officials in Beijing on Monday night.
His detention, first reported by Reuters, came after police in Canada arrested the chief financial officer of China’s Huawei Technologies Co Ltd on Dec. 1 at the request of U.S. authorities, a move that has infuriated Beijing.
Neither China’s Foreign Ministry nor Ministry of Public Security has responded to requests for comment. China’s Ministry of State Security has no publicly available contact details.
The Canadian government said it saw no explicit link to the Huawei case.
Diplomats in China said the apparent involvement of the secretive state security ministry, which engages in domestic counter-espionage work, among other things, suggests that the government could be looking at levelling spying accusations.
However, ICG President and CEO Robert Malley said the group did not engage in such activity.
“I don’t want to speculate as to what’s behind it but I am prepared to be categorical about what’s not behind it, and what’s not behind it is any illegal activity or endangering of Chinese national security,” Malley told Reuters.
“Everything we do is transparent, it’s on our website. We don’t engage in secretive work, in confidential work,” he said.
Guy Saint-Jacques, Canada’s former ambassador to China, was asked by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp on Tuesday whether the Kovrig detention was a coincidence after the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou.
“In China there are no coincidences … If they want to send you a message, they will send you a message,” he said.
A Western diplomat in China, who asked not to be identified, was even more blunt: “This is a political kidnapping.”
China had threatened severe consequences unless Canada released Meng immediately and analysts have said retaliation from Beijing over the arrest was likely.
Meng was granted bail by a Canadian court late on Tuesday, 10 days after her arrest in Vancouver on U.S. claims that she misled multinational banks about Iran-linked transactions sparked a diplomatic dispute.
Malley said Kovrig, who was based in Hong Kong, had been working on issues related to Chinese foreign policy in Asia and Africa.
“I’m just going to hope that whatever process is under way is going to be a fair one and one that will quickly show that there’s nothing against him,” he said.
The U.S. State Department was considering issuing a travel warning for its citizens, two sources said on Tuesday.
The Canadian government was considering issuing a similar warning, Canada’s CTV network reported. Reuters was not able to confirm the report.
(Additional reporting by Michael Martina and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Writing by Tony Munroe; Editing by Kim Coghill and Paul Tait)