Former Canadian diplomat detained in China amid rising tensions: reports [UPDATED]

By Andy Blatchford   

General Government Canada China Huawei Meng Wanzhou tensions

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

OTTAWA— A former Canadian diplomat who worked as a political lead for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s 2016 visit to Hong Kong has reportedly been arrested in China.

The International Crisis Group says it’s aware of media reports that Michael Kovrig, its northeast Asia senior adviser, has been detained. A member of the organization wrote in a short email that it has no additional information yet.

“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.

Global Affairs Canada has yet to respond to a request for comment. China’s embassy in Ottawa also has yet to provide a response to a request for information.


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—but so far it’s unclear if there is any link between the two cases.

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.

Kovrig, the group said, has been one of its full-time experts since February 2017. 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.

Related: Huawei senior executive is not a threat to jump bail: lawyer assures court

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.


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