As It Happens

'China should release Michael Spavor immediately,' says detained Canadian's friend

Michael Spavor's buddies first noticed he was missing when he failed to show up at his own party, says a friend of the Canadian detained in China.

Benjamin Young says China is 'seeking revenge' for the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou

Benjamin Young, right, pictured with his friend Michael Spavor, left, who has been detained in China. (Benjamin Young/Twitter)
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Michael Spavor's buddies first noticed he was missing when he failed to show up at his own party, says a friend of the Canadian detained in China.

Canadian entrepreneur Michael Spavor was arrested Monday in Beijing on suspicion of "engaging in activities that endanger the national security" of China.

"On Facebook, Michael tagged me in a post saying he was going to come to Seoul and he was just tagging a lot people and said we're going to have a party," Benjamin Young told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

"Soon enough, I saw a post underneath his own Facebook post wondering where he was, that he didn't come to his own party. That got people a little concerned."

Shortly after, he learned Spavor was one of two Canadians scooped up by Chinese authorities this week, shortly after Canada arrested Chinese business executive Meng Wanzhou.

"We are working very hard to ascertain his whereabouts and we continue to raise this with the Chinese government," a Global Affairs spokesperson told CBC News

Both Spavor and former diplomat Michael Kovrig were taken into custody on Monday, according to China's Foreign Ministry.

Connections to North Korea 

Spavor founded a China-based organization called Paektu Cultural Exchange, which brokers business deals and high-profile meetings between westerners and North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un.

It was on a 2012 trip to North Korea arranged by Spavor that he became friends with Young, who is doing his post-doctoral research on North Korea at the United States Naval War College.

"Chinese state media said his work is harming state security, and that couldn't be farther from the truth," Young said. 

"That's entirely false and China should release Michael Spavor immediately."

He said his opinions are purely his own and do not reflect those of his university. 

Michael P. Spavor, right, pictured here with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, second from right, former NBA basketball player Dennis Rodman, far left, and an unidentified man in this undated photo. (facebook.com/mpspavor)

Several people — including Peter Navarro, a trade advisor to U.S. President Donald Trump — have speculated the arrests are retribution from China for detaining Meng, the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies. 

"That's the Chinese playbook and again the problem we always have with China is when we launch legitimate concerns over whatever it is, China comes back and does these kinds of actions," Navarro told Fox Business News on Thursday.

Meng was arrested in Vancouver earlier this month at the request of the United States, which is hoping to have her extradited over allegations she tried to bypass American trade sanctions on Iran and lied to U.S. banks about her actions.

She has since been released on bail.

"I think very much China is seeking revenge for Canada on that matter," Young said.

"I think China feels that it can really bully Canada around because it's not the United States and I think that Michael is an unfortunate pawn in a broader diplomatic game."

Asked if the Canadian men's detentions were related to Meng's arrest, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said they were being handled according to Chinese law.

In the meantime, Young is holding out hope for his friend.

"Michael's a really down to earth, really friendly guy — and he's also tough," he said. "I think he has the mental resolve to get through this and I don't doubt that he will."

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Associated Press. Interview with Benjamin Young produced by Kevin Robertson.

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