China confirms 2 Canadians held amid 3-way feud with U.S. over Huawei executives arrest

/ CBS/AP

China demands release of tech executive

Beijing — China on Thursday confirmed it has detained two Canadian men, raising the stakes in a three-way international dispute over the case of a Chinese telecoms executive facing possible extradition from Canada to the United States.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said entrepreneur Michael Spavor and former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig were taken into custody on Monday on suspicion of "engaging in activities that endanger the national security" of China.

Lu said Canada was informed about the detentions, but declined to say whether the men have been provided with lawyers. He said the cases are being handled separately by local bureaus of the national intelligence agency in Beijing, where Kovrig was picked up, and the northeastern city of Dandong, where Spavor had been living.

"The legal rights of the two Canadians are being safeguarded," Lu told reporters at a daily briefing.

The two cases ratchet up pressure on Canada, which is holding Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies. She was arrested in Vancouver on Dec. 1 but released on bail. The U.S. has requested her extradition to face charges of bank fraud.

Canadian officials have not been able to contact Spavor "since he let us know he was being questioned by Chinese authorities," Canadian Global Affairs spokesman Guillaume Bérubé said Wednesday. "We are working very hard to ascertain his whereabouts and we continue to raise this with the Chinese government."

Kovrig is an analyst on northeast Asia for the International Crisis Group, a think tank, who took a leave of absence from the Canadian government and is based in Hong Kong.

Spavor runs tours of North Korea along with sports, business and other exchanges through his company, Paektu Cultural Exchange. He has ties to figures in the North's government, including leader Kim Jong Un and was instrumental in bringing NBA player Dennis Rodman to the North's capital Pyongyang in 2013.

Acquaintances said he was due in Seoul, the South Korean capital, on Monday, but never showed up.

The broadly defined national security charge encompasses both traditional espionage and other forms of information gathering such as interviewing dissidents and contacting non-governmental organizations.

The root of the dispute appears to be Canada's arrest of Meng while she was changing planes at Vancouver airport. The U.S. accuses Huawei of using a Hong Kong shell company to deceive banks and do business with Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions.

China earlier warned of dire consequences if Meng wasn't released and the editor in chief of the Global Times, a Communist Party-run tabloid known for its provocative views, warned in a video Wednesday night of "retaliatory measures" if Canada doesn't free Meng.

"If Canada extradites Meng to the U.S., China's revenge will be far worse than detaining a Canadian," Hu Xijin said, speaking in English.

Canada has asked China for extra security at its embassy because of protests and anti-Canadian sentiment and has advised foreign service staff to take precautions, a senior Canadian official told reporters.

Trump suggests he could intervene for sake of trade deal

The United States and China have emphasized that China-U.S. trade talks are separate from the case against Meng, though President Donald Trump obliterated the distinction Tuesday, saying he'd intervene if it would help produce a trade agreement with China.

"If I think it's good for what will be certainly the largest trade deal ever made — which is a very important thing — what's good for national security — I would certainly intervene if I thought it was necessary," Mr. Trump told Reuters in an interview.

Dow tumbles amid uncertainty over the U.S.-China trade war

The suggestion that Meng could be a political pawn in negotiations makes the situation more awkward for Canada. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau bristled at Mr. Trump's assertion, saying: "Regardless of what goes on in other countries, Canada is, and will always remain, a country of the rule of law."

Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said it was "quite obvious" any foreign country requesting extradition should ensure "the process is not politicized."

"Both Canadian and American officials have emphasized that the Meng arrest is separate from the trade talks," said Gregory Yaeger, special counsel at the Stroock law firm and a former Justice Department trial attorney.

"Trump's remarks could be interpreted as creating the appearance that the arrest also had political motivations. This could undermine the U.S.'s reputation as a country that follows the 'rule of law,' and could ultimately undermine both the Meng prosecution and the trade talks."

The case has shaken financial markets, with investors concerned it could ratchet up trade tensions between the U.S. and China. Meng's arrest came the same day President Donald Trump announced a pause in the tariff war between the two countries.

"Meng and the broader fate of Huawei will undoubtedly worsen US-China relations and make it even harder to bring negotiations to a conclusion," researchers at Eurasia Group wrote in a note. Evidence in Meng's case could lead to the U.S. fining Huawei, installing monitors at the company or imposing an export ban on it, a step that would bring U.S.-China relations "to a true crisis."

Mr. Trump earlier drew fire for intervening on behalf of Chinese telecommunications company, ZTE, after it was accused of selling equipment to Iran and North Korea.

U.S. regulators planned to bar it from receiving U.S. components that it depended on, effectively a corporate death sentence. But Mr. Trump issued a reprieve, perhaps partly because U.S. tech companies, major suppliers to ZTE, would also have been scorched. ZTE agreed to pay a $1 billion fine, change its board and management, and let American regulators monitor its operations.

Speaking outside the White House Wednesday, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross urged reporters not to jump to the conclusion that Mr. Trump will actually intervene in Meng's case.

"Let's see what he actually decides," Ross said. "Let's see where we go from there."

First published on December 13, 2018

© 2018 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

World hits another carbon emissions milestone in 2018

Just two years ago, there was cause for cautious optimism

Dec 5

More families have crossed illegally to San Diego since caravan arrived, CBP says

Frustrated with a long wait to apply for asylum, some migrants are trying to cross clandestinely

Dec 5

China confirms 2 Canadians held amid 3-way feud with U.S.

Foreign Ministry says Canadian entrepreneur and a former diplomat held on suspicion of "activities that endanger the national security" of China

12M ago

At least 7 killed, dozens hurt when train hits locomotive, overpass

High-speed train was traveling through station in Turkey's capital, Ankara; at least 2 cars derailed and parts of overpass fell onto train

1H ago

Manhunt for France terror suspect

An intense manhunt continues in France and Germany for the terror suspect who opened fire near a Christmas markey in Strasbourg. At least two people were killed. CBS News correspondent Roxana Saberi reports.

10H ago 01:34

U.S. diplomats in Cuba health mystery had inner-ear damage

26 people associated with U.S. Embassy in Havana suffered problems that include dizziness, ear pain, cognitive problems

11H ago

Pompeo blasts Iran at the U.N. over ballistic missile program

"It is clear the Iranian regime's ballistic missile activity has grown since the nuclear deal," Pompeo said

12H ago

U.K. leader survives no-confidence vote over Brexit plan

Enough of her fellow Conservative Party members disagreed with her EU exit plans to challenge her leadership, but not enough to oust her

13H ago

Streets covered with chocolate after factory leak in Werl, Germany

There was one sweet mess in the German town of Werl this week, when liquid chocolate seeped out of a factory and onto the street

14H ago

Inside the star-studded wedding rumored to cost $100 million

A private performance by Beyoncé was just the beginning

16H ago

How Yemen's war is killing children — no weapons necessary

Yussuf Adel, 3, escaped some of the fiercest fighting in Yemen's civil war, but he's not out of danger

16H ago

Michael Cohen sentenced to 3 years in prison

The president's former longtime attorney has been sentenced for campaign finance violations and lying to Congress

15H ago

National Enquirer owner admits to paying off Playboy model to protect Trump

The announcement came hours after former Trump attorney Michael Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison

13H ago

Earthquake strikes eastern Tennessee, felt in Atlanta

Light earthquake in Tennessee occurred in early morning hours, could be felt in Atlanta

19H ago

In first public comments in 3 months, Blasey Ford lauds abuse survivor

"Rachael Denhollander, I am in awe of you, and I will always be inspired by you," she said

18H ago

Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio sues CNN, Huffington Post, Rolling Stone

Arpaio filed a suit against three news organization seeking $300 million in damages, saying false statements have hurt his possible run for John McCain's Senate seat in 2020

19H ago

Tesla CEO Elon Musk: The "60 Minutes" interview

Musk opens up to Lesley Stahl about Twitter, pot, the Securities and Exchange Commission, Model 3 and Tesla

Dec 9

Study examines effects of screen time on kids

"60 Minutes" goes inside a landmark government study of young minds to see if phones, tablets and other screens are impacting adolescent brain development

Dec 9

Ryan Speedo Green: From juvenile delinquency to opera stardom

After a childhood of anger and violence, the 32-year-old now commands the stage around the world

Dec 9

Remembering President George H.W. Bush

Former presidents and others look back on the life of President George H.W. Bush, who passed away Friday

Dec 2

Paradise Lost: Inside California's Camp Fire

"60 Minutes" reveals what firefighters saw as the deadliest wildfire in California history destroyed the town of Paradise

Dec 2

The chaos behind family separation at the border

A "60 Minutes" investigation has found the separations that dominated headlines this summer began earlier and were greater in number than the Trump administration admits

Nov 26

Robots to the rescue after nuclear disaster

Seven years after a powerful earthquake and tsunami caused a massive nuclear meltdown in the Daiichi Power Plant, Lesley Stahl reports on the unprecedented cleanup effort

Nov 25

"To Kill a Mockingbird" comes to Broadway

With Aaron Sorkin writing the adaptation and Jeff Daniels starring as Atticus Finch, the Harper Lee classic hits the stage

Nov 25

Naloxone: The life-saving drug more Americans need

With over 115 Americans dying a day in the opioid epidemic, naloxone has become a necessity for first responders, doctors and everyday people

Nov 18

Right Rail – Video Promo – Listing

Michael Cohen sentenced to 3 years in prison

President Trump's former attorney Michael Cohen once said he would take a bullet for the president. Instead, he turned on him and pleaded guilty to nine counts in federal court. On Wednesday, he was sentenced to three years in prison. CBS News Washington correspondent Paula Reid has the latest.

10H ago 03:14

Tesla's Elon Musk: What's changed in a decade

"60 Minutes" first met the visionary CEO in 2008 for a report on the race to make the electric car. Producer Shachar Bar-On explains.

Dec 9 04:15

Manhunt for France terror suspect

An intense manhunt continues in France and Germany for the terror suspect who opened fire near a Christmas markey in Strasbourg. At least two people were killed. CBS News correspondent Roxana Saberi reports.

10H ago 01:34

Michigan protests over alleged power grab

There were loud protests in Michigan on Wednesday over what many say is a last-minute power grab by Republicans. They're accused off trying to limit the authority of newly elected Democrats. CBS News correspondent Dean Reynolds reports.

10H ago 02:07

Retirement out of reach for millions

Tom Coomer, 80, is just one of nearly 10 million Americans over 65 still working. He was working as a machinist when his plant closed down, just one year shy of getting his full pension. CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann has his story.

10H ago 03:32

Michael Cohen sentenced to 3 years in prison

The president's former longtime attorney has been sentenced for campaign finance violations and lying to Congress

15H ago

National Enquirer owner admits to paying off Playboy model to protect Trump

The announcement came hours after former Trump attorney Michael Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison

13H ago

Earthquake strikes eastern Tennessee, felt in Atlanta

Light earthquake in Tennessee occurred in early morning hours, could be felt in Atlanta

19H ago

In first public comments in 3 months, Blasey Ford lauds abuse survivor

"Rachael Denhollander, I am in awe of you, and I will always be inspired by you," she said

18H ago

Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio sues CNN, Huffington Post, Rolling Stone

Arpaio filed a suit against three news organization seeking $300 million in damages, saying false statements have hurt his possible run for John McCain's Senate seat in 2020

19H ago

2018 additions to the Library of Congress' National Film Registry

"The Shining," "Jurassic Park," "My Fair Lady" and "Brokeback Mountain" are among the classic films to be preserved for future generations by the Library of Congress

27 photos

The timeless photojournalism of Chris Hondros and Tim Hetherington

"War and Peace in Liberia" is a new exhibition in New York City celebrating the work of two acclaimed war photographers, who were both killed in conflict zones

15 photos

Yemen's humanitarian crisis

The nation's civil war has claimed at least 10,000 lives, and generated the world's worst humanitarian crisis

15 photos

Notable deaths in 2018

A look back at the esteemed personalities who've left us this year, who touched us with their innovation, creativity and humanity

133 photos

Biggest stories of 2018, ranked

This year was a doozy. These were the top stories on CBSNews.com

55 photos

China confirms 2 Canadians held amid 3-way feud with U.S.

Foreign Ministry says Canadian entrepreneur and a former diplomat held on suspicion of "activities that endanger the national security" of China

12M ago

At least 7 killed, dozens hurt when train hits locomotive, overpass

High-speed train was traveling through station in Turkey's capital, Ankara; at least 2 cars derailed and parts of overpass fell onto train

1H ago

Melania Trump derides media focus on "gossip" and criticizes "opportunists"

Melania Trump was interviewed Wednesday by Fox News' Sean Hannity

2H ago

Woman writes heartbreaking note to tech companies when baby ads continued to appear after stillborn birth

"If you're smart enough to realize that I'm pregnant, that I've given birth, then surely you're smart enough to realize that my baby died"

3H ago

Mark Meadows out of running for chief of staff

U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina is out of the running to be President Trump's next chief of staff. Niall Stanage, White House columnist for The Hill, joins CBSN to discuss the latest developments and the rest of the day's political headlines.

6H ago 09:02

Changing the strategy for 2020 primary elections

When it come to presidential primary elections, all eyes are usually on Iowa and New Hampshire, but in 2020, California and Texas could attract almost as much attention. Gromer Jeffers, a political writer for the Dallas Morning News, and Dave Bryan, a political reporter for KCBS and KCAL, join CBSN's "Red and Blue" to discuss.

6H ago 05:49