spavor and kovrig
© Associated Press/International Crisis Group/Canadian Press
Michael Spavor, left, and former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig, right
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused Beijing of not playing by the same rules the large majority of democracies follow after Chinese authorities formally arrested two Canadians, accusing them of crimes related to national security.

Businessman Michael Spavor, who worked with North Korea, and former diplomat Michael Kovrig were picked up separately in December, shortly after Canada arrested Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver, and were recently arrested, according to both Chinese and Canadian officials.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang told a daily news briefing in Beijing on Thursday morning that Kovrig - who now works for the International Crisis Group (ICG) a non-governmental organization which focuses on conflict resolution - is suspected of gathering state secrets for other countries and Spavor is accused of stealing and illegally providing state secrets, said Lu.

He didn't say when the men will be formally charged, just that they had recently been arrested.

China has repeatedly demanded Meng, who now faces extradition to the U.S, be released, and has reacted angrily to extradition proceedings against her in a Canadian court.

Under Chinese law, officials can detain people for up to six months, meaning Beijing had until June 10 to act.

"I think one of the things we see increasingly around the world is that the Chinese government is not following the same kinds of rules and principles that the large majority of democracies follow in regards to rules-based order, in regards to international relations," said Trudeau during a media appearance in Paris Thursday.

When asked if he'll call Chinese President Xi Jinping, Trudeau said Canada is focused on "things that are going to help the Canadians being detained."

Global Affairs Canada said Thursday it "condemns their arbitrary arrest as we condemned their arbitrary detention on Dec. 10."

"We reiterate our demand that China immediately release Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor," said a spokesperson in a statement.

"Canadian consular officials have made recent consular visits to the two men and will continue to provide consular services to them and their families. Due to the provisions of the Privacy Act, no further information can be disclosed."

Questions about the death penalty

Canadian diplomats have been allowed to visit the two men in detention. China has said it is fully guaranteeing both men's lawful rights. Kovrig also holds Hungarian citizenship.

China hoped Canada "will not make irresponsible remarks" about China's law enforcement and judicial proceedings, said Lu. With their formal arrest, they could soon face trial, though it is unclear when that may be.

Guy Saint-Jacques, one of Canada's former ambassadors to China, said their fates are likely already sealed.

"Once you are formally accused in the Chinese system, you are found guilty in 99.9 per cent of the cases. What we'll have to watch now is what is exactly the nature of the accusations and whether the penalty could include the death penalty," he said.

"We're dealing with some very difficult people."

While Canada says China has made no specific link between the detentions of the two men and Meng's arrest, experts and former diplomats say they have no doubt it is using their cases to pressure Canada.

"The Chinese leaders have probably come to the conclusion that the extradition process of Mrs. Meng is going to last likely a long time and therefore they have decided to up the ante," said Saint-Jacques.

In March, China accused the two of involvement in stealing state secrets.

Meng, 47, is the daughter of Huawei Technologies Co Ltd's billionaire founder, Ren Zhengfei.

She was arrested at Vancouver's airport on a U.S. warrant and is fighting extradition on charges that she conspired to defraud global banks about Huawei's relationship with a company operating in Iran.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed an executive order barring U.S. firms from using telecom equipment made by companies deemed to pose a national security risk. The order did not specifically identify any country or company, but U.S. officials have previously labelled Huawei a "threat" and lobbied allies not to use Huawei network equipment in next-generation 5G networks.

Meng was released from jail in December on $10-million bail and must wear an electronic ankle bracelet and pay for security guards. She has been living in a Vancouver home.

The formal arrests of the Canadians was first reported by the Globe and Mail on Wednesday.

Another Canadian in China, Robert Schellenberg, was sentenced to death in a drug case following Meng's detention. His case is being appealed.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said Canadians thinking of travelling to China should consult with Global Affairs Canada.