A Chinese court on Monday tried a former Canadian diplomat on accusations of spying, Canadian officials said, the second such trial in recent days and one that will most likely intensify tensions among China, Canada and the United States.
A court in Beijing presided over the trial of the former diplomat, Michael Kovrig, who was detained by the Chinese authorities in late 2018, shortly after Canada arrested a top executive at the Chinese technology firm Huawei at the request of the United States.
The trial was held in secret, according to the Canadian Embassy in Beijing, with the Chinese authorities barring foreign diplomats and journalists from attending. In a show of support for Mr. Kovrig, more than two dozen diplomats representing 26 countries, including Canada and the United States, tried to gain access to the courtroom in Beijing on Monday, only to be turned away by security officials.
Mr. Kovrig’s friends, family and former co-workers have said he is innocent.
“From the moment he was detained, the political nature of his case has been clear,” said Richard Atwood, interim president of the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based research organization where Mr. Kovrig worked as an adviser. “Michael should be released immediately so he can return home to his loved ones.”
He is the second Canadian to stand trial in recent days on spying charges, after Michael Spavor, a Canadian businessman, who was also detained in 2018, appeared before a court on Friday in Dandong, a northeastern city. That verdict would be announced at a later date, the court said.
“The arbitrary detention of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig for more than two years now is completely unacceptable,” Jim Nickel, a top official at the Canadian Embassy in Beijing who tried to gain access to the courtroom on Monday, said in a statement.
The prosecutions of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor have unfolded against a backdrop of growing tensions over China’s increasingly assertive behavior on the global stage. Critics have labeled China’s action “hostage diplomacy” and have called on Canada and the United States to work to secure the two men’s release.
Canadian and American officials have described the men’s detention as arbitrary and part of China’s efforts to secure the release in Canada of the Chinese executive Meng Wanzhou, the daughter of the founder of Huawei. Ms. Meng faces sweeping fraud charges in the United States, which is seeking her extradition.
The detentions of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor were expected to come up when American and Chinese diplomats met in Alaska last week. But the meeting was marred by tensions, and the two sides left without any joint statement of their willingness to work together.
American officials on Monday denounced China’s decision to go forward with the trials. “The charges are a blatant attempt to use human beings as bargaining leverage,” a spokesman for the United States Embassy in Beijing said in a statement. “The practice of arbitrary detention to exercise leverage over foreign governments is completely unacceptable.”
China has defended its handling of the cases, saying that the Canadians broke Chinese law.
“Chinese judicial organs handle cases independently in accordance with the law and fully guarantee the lawful rights of the individuals concerned,” Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said at a news briefing in Beijing on Friday.