Update: Trials of two Canadians in China ends without verdict

Michael Spavor (L) and Michael Kovrig (composite image)
Michael Spavor (L) and Michael Kovrig have been held since December 2018

The closely-watched trial of a Canadian businessman accused of espionage has ended in China with no verdict.

It is the latest development in what has turned into a diplomatic spat between China and the US and Canada.

Michael Spavor was arrested two years ago along with fellow Canadian and former diplomat Michael Kovrig.

The detentions came days after Canada detained Meng Wanzhou, a senior executive at Chinese tech giant Huawei, on a US warrant.

Canada has accused China of conducting “hostage diplomacy”. Beijing denies the cases are linked.

Mr Spavor’s trial, which took place in the northern Chinese city of Dandong on Friday morning, appeared to have lasted just two hours. It is not unusual for some trials in China to take place swiftly.

Canadian diplomats said they were denied entry into the courtroom, but Mr Spavor was seen inside.

As the trial took place, a group of foreign diplomats gathered outside the court. Among them was the charge d’affaires of the Canadian embassy in China, Jim Nickel, who told reporters that it was a breach of international law to bar their entry.

He added that Canadian diplomats were also refused access to Mr Spavor before his trial, and that they were “disappointed by the lack of transparency and the lack of access”.

Mr Kovrig is due to go on trial next week.

Both Canadians have been held in prison since their arrest in December 2018. They were formally indicted in June last year, and face lengthy jail terms if found guilty.

Mr Spavor is a founding member of the Paektu Cultural Exchange, an organisation which facilitates international business and cultural ties with North Korea, while Mr Kovrig worked for the International Crisis Group think tank.

US President Joe Biden has publicly supported calls for the two men’s release and has pledged to work with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to ensure “their safe return”.

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