Detained envoy suspected of harming national security

Top News | 13 Dec 2018

Michael Kovrig, a detained Canadian citizen who works for the International Crisis Group think-tank, is suspected of engaging in activities that could harm China's national security, the state-run Beijing News quoted sources as saying.

Beijing earlier said the Hong Kong-based Kovrig may have violated mainland laws if he carried out work in China because his employer is not legally registered in the country.

Foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said he had "no information to offer" about the detention. But he added that ICG was not registered in China.

"If it's not registered and its employees in China are engaged in activities, it is already in violation" of a Chinese law on foreign nongovernmental organizations, Lu said.

Diplomats in China said the apparent involvement of the secretive state security ministry, which engages in domestic counter-espionage work, among other things, suggests the government could be looking at leveling spying accusations. A former Canadian ambassador to Beijing, Guy Saint-Jacques, said Kovrig's detention is likely related to Canada's arrest of Sabrina Meng.

ICG president Robert Malley said the group does not engage in such activity.

"I don't want to speculate as to what's behind it but I am prepared to be categorical about what's not behind it, and what's not behind it is any illegal activity or endangering of Chinese national security," Malley said.

Friends describe Kovrig as a friendly, decent man who loves China. His duties included research and analysis on foreign affairs and security issues facing countries in the region, especially on the Korean peninsula. He wrote op-eds and gave frequent interviews on the issues.

But ICG closed its office in Beijing, which rolled out a more restrictive law that took effect in early 2017 to better control foreign NGOs.

Kovrig served as political officer at the Canadian embassy from 2014-2016. He met with dissidents and traveled to the Xinjiang region, Saint-Jacques said, adding he took an unpaid leave from the embassy because he wanted to be able to return to China.

"He is a really nice guy, good sense of morals," said David Zweig, a friend of Kovrig's and a fellow Canadian China watcher, noting Kovrig is well respected in the Hong Kong community.

Saint-Jacques said Kovrig may have become a "hostage" and "pawn" in a three-nation feud.

TVB Pearl journalist and host Michael Chugani interviewed Kovrig on Straight Talk in June. He said Kovrig went to Singapore to monitor the talk between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on June 12.

He said Kovrig would be a good person to talk about what he thought of China's role would be for the summit and the sanctions for North Korea.

Kovrig agreed to join the episode that aired on June 19.


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