China prosecutes two Canadian men over alleged espionage

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was "very disappointed" by China charging two detained Canadians with spying Friday in an apparent bid to step up pressure on Canada to drop a U.S. extradition request for a Huawei executive under house arrest in Vancouver.

Chinese prosecutors said on Friday they have charged two detained Canadians for suspected espionage, indictments that could result in life imprisonment, in a case that has driven a diplomatic wedge between Ottawa and Beijing. Spavor was charged in Dandong city, on suspicion of spying for a foreign entity and illegally providing state secrets.

Last month, Ms Meng lost a legal bid to avoid extradition to the United States to face bank fraud charges, dashing hopes for an end to her house arrest in Vancouver.

Mr Kovrig - a human rights NGO worker and ex-diplomat - and Mr Spavor - a North Korea-focused consultant - were detained by Chinese authorities on December 10, 2018.

A Canadian judge ruled this month that the USA extradition case against Meng could proceed to the next stage.

Trudeau said the Canadian government has "continued to express our disappointment with the Chinese detention of these two Canadians, and we will continue to advocate for their release and their return to Canada while highlighting that we have an independent judicial system that is going through its processes in a way that is separate from political interference".

China has denied any explicit link between her case and the lengthy detention of the two Canadian men, but outside experts see them as tied and Chinese diplomats have strongly implied a connection. Meng is out on bail and living in one of her Vancouver mansions.

The spying charges against them come just weeks after a key ruling in the Meng case that proceedings to extradite her to the United States will go ahead. Trudeau didn't alter his message or change his tone when asked about China's latest move in their cases, which he described as retaliation for Meng's arrest.

Ryan Mitchell, law professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said the long period of detention was "probably meant to help coerce a "voluntary" confession out of one or both of the two Canadians".

Kovrig and Spavor had no access to lawyers or their families as of May, with the exception of a phone call the Chinese embassy said Kovrig was allowed to make to his sick father in mid-March.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said the government's "naive approach to Beijing" has hampered efforts to release Spavor and Kovrig.

The cases have been closely linked with the US push to extradite Huawei executive Meng Wangzhou from Canada.

Earlier this month, Huawei's ambitions to be a player in Canada's 5G network were very much cast in doubt after two of the country's three largest telecom companies announced partnerships with the Chinese company's European rivals. On Wednesday, Canada joined the Group of Seven foreign ministers urging China to withdraw plans to impose national security legislation mirroring Chinese law on the former British colony of Hong Kong.