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Ex-diplomat who worked on Trudeau's Hong Kong visit detained in China: reports

Michael Kovrig is shown in this undated handout photo. A former Canadian diplomat has been arrested in China, according to media reports and the international think tank he works for. International Crisis Group says it's aware of reports that its North East Asia senior adviser Michael Kovrig has been detained.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - International Crisis Group
December 11, 2018 - 11:20 AM

OTTAWA - The federal government says it's making every effort to get to the bottom of the apparently unfounded arrest of a former Canadian diplomat in China at a time of intensifying tensions between the two countries.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale spoke to reporters Tuesday about the case of Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat who worked as a political lead for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's 2016 official visit to Hong Kong.

"What we know is that a Canadian is obviously in difficulty in China," Goodale said in Ottawa.

He said Global Affairs Canada is sparing no effort to find out everything it can about the case "and also to demonstrate to the Chinese government through our diplomatic offices how seriously we view this matter."

News of Kovrig's detention comes after China warned Canada of consequences for its recent arrest of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou at Vancouver's airport.

So far, it's unclear if there is any link between the two cases.

Goodale was asked about the possibility Kovrig's detention was in retaliation for Meng's arrest.

"We're obviously worried about whenever a Canadian is put in a situation that puts them at some risk or jeopardy, where's there's no apparent or obvious cause or trigger for that" he said. "So, before we characterize it, we want to make sure we get all the facts. But at the same time we are sparing no effort to do everything we possibly can to look after his safety."

Kovrig has been working for the International Crisis Group in China as its northeast Asia senior adviser since February 2017. The organization said in a statement Tuesday that it was aware of reports he had been detained and one of his colleagues wrote in a short email that it had no additional information.

"We are doing everything possible to secure additional information on Michael's whereabouts as well as his prompt and safe release," the organization said in a statement.

A spokesman for Global Affairs said Ottawa was "aware of the detention of a Canadian citizen in China."

"We have raised this case directly with Chinese authorities," Guillaume Berube wrote in an email.

"The Canadian government is seized with this case and will continue to speak with the Chinese government. We are providing consular assistance to the family of the Canadian. Due to provisions of the Privacy Act, no further information can be disclosed."

China's embassy in Ottawa also has yet to provide a response to a request for information.

Kovrig wrote on his LinkedIn profile that he served as the political lead on the "successful visit" Trudeau made to Hong Kong in September 2016. At the time, Kovrig worked in Canada's consulate-general in Hong Kong.

In his profile, Kovrig describes himself as an international policy analyst and strategist "at the intersection of communication, politics, economics and global security." He says he has 20 years of international experience — and about 10 years working for Canada's foreign-affairs department, domestically and in postings abroad.

A profile on the International Crisis Group's website says Kovrig previously worked as a Canadian diplomat in Beijing, Hong Kong and at the United Nations in New York. The group says Kovrig, who speaks Mandarin, conducts research and analysis on foreign affairs and global security issues in northeast Asia, particularly China, Japan and the Korean peninsula.

The International Crisis Group describes itself as an "independent organization working to prevent wars and shape policies that will build a more peaceful world."

Roland Paris, who served as Trudeau's senior foreign-policy adviser until June 2016, wrote on Twitter on Tuesday that Chinese "retaliation against Canadian interests or Canadians would be unacceptable and pointless."

"It would have zero impact on judicial proceedings in Canada," wrote Paris, a professor of international affairs at the University of Ottawa. "Beijing should already know this from previous experience. Let cooler heads prevail."

Meng's arrest in Vancouver has heightened tensions between Canada and China. The United States is seeking to have Meng extradited on allegations that she tried to bypass American trade sanctions on Iran.

Huawei is one of the world's largest telecom companies.

Beijing has warned Canada of unspecified "grave consequences" for the arrest of Meng, who is the daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei.

She's described in some circles as "corporate royalty" in China. On TV and social media, commentators likened her arrest to the detention in China of a Mark Zuckerberg sibling or a cousin of Steve Jobs.

Kovrig made headlines in August 2006 for very different reasons.

While he was a public-affairs officer at the Canadian mission to the United Nations, Kovrig surprised his girlfriend with a marriage proposal after luring her into the empty UN General Assembly hall.

His girlfriend, who grew up in Afghanistan, said yes.

"The General Assembly hall is a place for announcing commitments to the world," Kovrig said at the time. "Our romance has been international, so it seemed appropriate to make the commitment on international territory."

The couple met at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, where they were both pursuing master's degrees.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2018
The Canadian Press

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