Former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig detained in China

A former Canadian diplomat has been detained in China, and his current employer, the International Crisis Group, has said it is seeking his prompt and safe release.

Michael Kovrig’s detention comes after police in Canada arrested Huawei’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, on 1 December at the request of US authorities, a move that infuriated Beijing.

“We are aware of the situation of a Canadian detained in China,” said prime minister Justin Trudeau, adding to concerns voiced by the International Crisis Group thinktank, Korvig’s employer, which first raised the alarm.

It was not immediately clear if the cases were related, but the arrest of Huawei’s CFO in Vancouver has stoked fears of reprisals against the foreign business community in China.

Ralph Goodale, the public safety minister, said there was “no explicit indication at this moment” that the Canadian’s detention was linked to Meng’s arrest.

News of Kovrig’s detention on Tuesday came hours before Meng was due back in court on the third day of a bail hearing in Vancouver

The US state department also voiced concern. “The United States is concerned by these reports that a Canadian citizen has been detained in China. We’ve urged China to end all forms of arbitrary detention and to respect the protections and freedoms of all individuals under China’s international human rights and consular commitments,” said spokesman Robert Palladino.

The International Crisis Group said it had received no information on Kovrig since his detention and was “concerned for his health and safety”.

“We are making every effort to learn more and to secure consular access to Michael from the Chinese authorities,” a statement from the company said.

The exact reason for the detention was not immediately clear but China’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday that if Kovrig was carrying out “relevant activities” for the ICG without it being registered, then he may have broken China’s foreign NGO law.

China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Lu Kang, said that as far as he knew, ICG had not registered in China. “If personnel from an organisation that is not registered are engaged in activities in China, then they have violated” China’s NGO law that was revised last year, he said.

The Canadian embassy declined to comment, referring queries to Ottawa. Goodale confirmed the detention and said Canada was very concerned.

Kovrig, a Mandarin speaker, has been working as a full-time expert for the International Crisis Group since February 2017.

From 2003 to 2016, he worked as a diplomat with stints in Beijing and Hong Kong, among others, according to his profile on LinkedIn.

China has detained Canadians in similar circumstances before. In 2014, when a Chinese national was arrested in Canada on charges of stealing military secrets, China arrested a Canadian couple who ran a cafe near the North Korea border.