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One Of The Canadians Detained In China For 2 Years On Spying Charges Goes On Trial

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

A former Canadian diplomat, Michael Kovrig, was tried on espionage charges today. He is one of two Canadians detained in China in 2018 just days after Canada arrested a Chinese executive. NPR's Beijing correspondent Emily Feng has this report from the trial.

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: I'm outside Beijing Intermediate Court No. 2, where Canadian Michael Kovrig is being tried today after more than two years in prison.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Chinese).

FENG: Among those present, about a dozen police ushering journalists away from the courthouse and diplomats from 26 countries who tried to attend the trial. One of them was Jim Nickel, the Canadian embassy's top diplomat in China. He's been trying to visit Kovrig in prison, as required by a China Canadian consular agreement.

Were you able to meet with Michael before this, even virtually?

JIM NICKEL: No.

FENG: A second Canadian, Michael Spavor, was tried in another Chinese court last Friday for allegedly being Kovrig's intelligence source. The two Michaels, as they're called here, were arrested just nine days after Canada arrested Meng Wanzhou. She's the daughter of the founder of Huawei, the Chinese telecom giant, and the Justice Department charged her with violating U.S. sanctions against Iran. Meng is now in house arrest in a Vancouver mansion while the U.S. tries to extradite her from Canada.

MARGARET LEWIS: I think we're all going to be watching what happens not just in Beijing but in the courtroom in Vancouver.

FENG: That's Margaret Lewis, an international law professor at Seton Hall University. She says the cases of the two Michaels are about geopolitical leverage, something the Chinese foreign ministry has suggested as well.

LEWIS: This is really about the Michaels being pawns and these geopolitical - not just Canada and China but also the U.S.' role, being the country that has requested the extradition of Meng Wanzhou.

(CROSSTALK)

FENG: Back at the courthouse, a legal spokesperson tells us Kovrig's trial has started. However...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Chinese).

FENG: She says the case involves national secrets, and therefore, all diplomats and journalists are barred from entering. Lewis the law professor says while all countries use national security to close off trials...

LEWIS: What is deeply concerning is how far the Chinese government has taken it. If you look at the Canada-China Consular Agreement, it makes clear that a consular officer shall be permitted to attend the trial and that national laws shall not restrict that access. That is crystal clear, and there is absolutely no asterisk for a state security case.

FENG: Today the Foreign Ministry told NPR the Canadian diplomats are trying to attend the trial were, quote, "meddling."

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Speaking Chinese).

FENG: She said the attempt was a rude interference with China's judicial sovereignty and that any scheme to gang up on China would never succeed.

Emily Feng, NPR News, Beijing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.