China snubbed Trudeau request for talks about detained Canadians

Ottawa (AFP) –


China ignored Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's personal request for dialogue to end a spiralling diplomatic row, his office revealed Wednesday.

Trudeau requested the call in January with Premier Li Keqiang so he could "personally advocate" for the immediate release of two Canadians detained a month earlier and for clemency in the case of another Canadian who would later be sentenced to death for drug trafficking, his spokeswoman Chantal Gagnon said in a statement.

"Our appeal for clemency (in the drug case) was also made directly to senior Chinese officials," she added.

The disclosure comes amid growing domestic calls for Trudeau to step up pressure on China to release the two Canadians, whom his government has said were arbitrarily detained.

Former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor were detained after the December 1 arrest of a top Huawei executive, Meng Wanzhou, in Vancouver on a US warrant.

China has said it suspects Kovrig, who works for the International Crisis Group think tank, of espionage and alleged that Spavor provided him with intelligence.

But Trudeau retorted that the pair "had been detained for political reasons."

Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said last month she also sought a meeting with her Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, to no avail.

The detentions have thrown relations between Ottawa and Beijing into crisis.

China has also blocked Canadian agricultural shipments worth billions of dollars.

In response, Ottawa has rallied a dozen countries to its side, including Britain, France, Germany and the United States, as well as the European Union, NATO and the G7.

Meng is living in a Vancouver mansion on bail awaiting an extradition hearing scheduled to start in early 2020.