TORONTO – A third Canadian has been detained in China, the Canadian government said Wednesday, but an official said there is no reason to believe that the case is linked to the detention of two other Canadians last week.
The first two cases appeared to be in retaliation for the arrest of a top Chinese tech executive in Canada on behalf of the United States.
Global Affairs Canada said it is aware of a third Canadian citizen detained in China and consular officials are providing assistance to the family.
An official said "there is no reason to believe that this case is linked to other recent cases of Canadians detained in China." The official spoke on condition of anonymity because no further information could be disclosed publicly for privacy reasons.
But David Mulroney, a former ambassador to China, said it would be highly unusual if this is a coincidence. "It's possible but I find it unlikely," he said.
Mulroney said it would be problem for Canada and China. "One detention is bad enough. Two is terrible. Three underlines how ruthless China can be," he said. "It serves as a reminder for people that China is a detention state."
Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, was arrested in Canada on Dec. 1 at the request of the United States, which wants her extradited to face charges that she and her company misled banks about the company's business dealings in Iran.
The Chinese then secretly detained two Canadians on Dec. 10 on vague suspicions of "engaging in activities that endanger the national security" of China. Beijing didn't allow Canadian officials to see Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat in China, for four days and Canadian entrepreneur Michael Spavor for six days. Meng is out on bail in Canada.
The case has set off a three-way diplomatic spat in which Canada is stuck in the middle. President Donald Trump complicated matters by saying he might intervene in the case if would help clinch a U.S. trade agreement with China — much to the consternation of Canadian officials who said the arrest was not political and they were just following their extradition treaty obligations.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called last Friday for China to release the Canadians, saying their detention was "unlawful" and "unacceptable."
Roland Paris, a former foreign policy adviser to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, called on the U.S. to do more.
"What is the United States doing to help gain the release of two Canadians — and now potentially a third — detained by China in apparent retaliation for Canada's lawful arrest of Ms. Meng? Washington should be using its considerable leverage to support Canada," Paris tweeted
Associated Press writer Yanan Wang in Beijing contributed to this report.