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British Columbia Michael Kovrig’s boss says jailed Canadian holding up well, is a ‘fighter’

People hold signs calling for China to release Canadian detainees Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig during a court appearance by Huawei's chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver on May 8.

Lindsey Wasson/Reuters

A former Canadian diplomat detained in China for more than five months is a “fighter,” and holding up extraordinarily well in difficult conditions as Canada seeks his release, his employer says.

Robert Malley, president and chief executive officer of the International Crisis Group, said he worries about Michael Kovrig, the group’s adviser for North East Asia, but has heard he has been “remarkably resilient” in captivity.

“One can never surmise how somebody is going to survive conditions like this. But everything we have heard is that he’s a fighter, and he’s somebody who has great faith in the future,” Mr. Malley said during an interview this week in Vancouver.

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“He’s fighting and being as resilient and courageous as one could hope."

Mr. Malley said the Crisis Group, a non-governmental organization that works to prevent and resolve armed conflicts, has been in touch with the Canadian government and Mr. Kovrig’s family.

Mr. Kovrig was detained along with entrepreneur Michael Spavor after Canada arrested Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., in December on a U.S. extradition request. The United States is alleging fraud related to sanctions against Iran. Ms. Meng was granted bail.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he hoped to arrange a one-on-one meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit in Japan beginning on June 28. As well as the detentions of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor, China has also banned or restricted the import of Canadian canola, soybeans, pork and beef since Ms. Meng’s arrest.

Also on Thursday, Ms. Meng’s lawyers were in court to discuss scheduling. Her case is expected to wrap up by the fall of 2020, meaning she would have been detained in Canada for about two years.

Last month, China’s ambassador to Canada, Lu Shaye, told The Globe and Mail that Canada must free Ms. Meng, whose father founded Huawei, before normal relations between the countries can resume.

Before joining the Crisis Group in 2017, Mr. Kovrig worked for more than a decade as a Canadian diplomat in Beijing and Hong Kong and at the United Nations in New York, according to the company web site.

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Mr. Kovrig speaks Mandarin, and the company says his job is to conduct research and provide analysis on foreign affairs and global security issues in North East Asia, particularly China, Japan and the Korean peninsula.

Mr. Malley said he had no advice to offer Mr. Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland on how to resolve the situation. “I think they’re doing exactly what they need to do,” he said.

Ms. Freeland has talked about the importance of high-level dialogue with China to end the impasse, which is the worst diplomatic dispute since formal relations with China were established in 1971, but also condemned the detentions of the two Canadians.

Mr. Malley said the reasons given for detaining Mr. Kovrig have nothing to do with anything he has done.

“There’s never been any serious evidence or any serious charge about anything he has done, so we know he has been caught up in a battle that goes well beyond him,” he said.

Mr. Malley, who worked as a special assistant in the administrations of U.S. presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton on the Middle East and Arab-Israeli affairs, among other files, said the detentions counter China’s attempts to be seen as open for business and a responsible global actor.

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“Detaining somebody on unfounded charges and holding them arbitrarily without access to lawyers or family for, as I said, almost 200 days, is not the way to go about it.”

Still, he added that it is necessary to continue to engage with China.

“You can’t ignore China. You have to engage with them. That’s not even a matter of debate,” he said.

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