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Michael Kovrig (left) and Michael Spavor, the two Canadians detained in China, are shown in these 2018 images taken from video.

/The Associated Press

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he wants the U.S. government to hold off on wrapping up a new trade deal with China until Beijing releases two Canadians it locked up one year ago.

The Chinese government detained former diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor in December, 2018, in apparent retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, a member of China’s corporate elite, on an extradition request from the United States.

In an interview with TVA network’s morning show Salut Bonjour that aired Thursday, Mr. Trudeau was asked about a tentative deal that would be a first step in ending a trade war between the United States and China – and whether it could lead to a resolution of the plight of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor.

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“We’ve said that the United States should not sign a final and complete agreement with China that does not settle the question of Meng Wanzhou and the two Canadians," Mr. Trudeau said in French.

American authorities have long insisted that the arrest warrant for Ms. Meng is an independent law-enforcement action, driven by evidence gathered by U.S. prosecutors, despite the fact that U.S. President Donald Trump last December mused about using Ms. Meng as a bargaining chip with China.

Last week, the United States and China reached a “Phase One” trade agreement but have not signed it yet.

In an interview with The Canadian Press earlier this week, Mr. Trudeau said while he regretted that Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor have been caught up in a diplomatic row, he did not regret the fact that Canada lived up to its extradition-treaty obligations with the U.S. by arresting Ms. Meng.

One year after their detention, Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor remain incarcerated in Chinese prisons, accused of violating state secrets laws. Ms. Meng, chief financial officer at China’s Huawei Technologies, remains in Vancouver, free on bail but confined to the city, awaiting an extradition hearing in January, 2020.

Richard Neal, the Democratic chairman of the U.S. House committee that oversees trade, said he agreed with Mr. Trudeau’s call for the U.S. to hold back on a deal until China released Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor. Mr. Neal said he had spoken with both Mr. Trudeau and his deputy, Chrystia Freeland, about the matter. He most recently discussed it with Ms. Freeland four or five days ago, he said.

“I support the Canadian position on that,” he said in an interview Thursday. “I support their efforts to secure those two Canadian citizens who are being held against their will.”

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Mr. Neal said he did not expect that whatever trade deal the U.S. negotiates with China will have to come to the House for a vote, meaning he would hold relatively little leverage over the administration. But he said he would push U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, who is leading negotiations with China, to adopt this position. Mr. Neal and Mr. Lighthizer have developed a rapport over negotiating ratification of Mr. Trump’s overhaul of NAFTA.

“I think the United States should advocate fully for the release of those prisoners," Mr. Neal said. “I would certainly raise the spectre of the issue aggressively with the U.S. Trade Representative.”

Mr. Lighthizer declined to comment when asked about Mr. Trudeau’s request by The Globe and Mail.

“I don’t talk about any of these things,” he said when approached in the hall of the U.S. Capitol Thursday, where he was watching the House of Representatives vote on the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

Joseph Crook, a spokesman for the U.S. embassy in Ottawa, said “the United States government is deeply concerned about China’s arbitrary detention and arrest of the two Canadian citizens. These detentions are unacceptable.”

In the TVA interview, Mr. Trudeau also said Canada is trying to persuade China that it gains no leverage in the Meng extradition case by punishing Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor.

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“We are working almost every day to try and get the Chinese to understand that they have to free those two Canadians, that it does not help their own cause,” Mr. Trudeau said.

“We have an independent justice system and whatever pressure they try to put on us by arresting two Canadians, it will not have an impact on the court’s decision in British Columbia in relation to the extradition treaty.”

China, for its part, denies the detention of the two Canadians has anything to do with Ms. Meng’s arrest. But it warns that relations with Canada will not improve until Ottawa lets Ms. Meng go.

John E. Smith, who until May, 2018, was a director of the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which is responsible for administering and enforcing sanctions, told The Globe in a recent interview that he doesn’t believe “geopolitics were at play” in the Meng arrest.

“This had been going on for years … before the Trump administration came to power," he said. "The prosecutors were clearly working on this matter. They pursued it and they got an indictment. That is not done at the behest of President Trump. That is done by career prosecutors that are pursuing a criminal case.”

U.S. authorities accuse Ms. Meng and other Huawei executives of lying to banks so that they would clear transactions with Iran through the United States despite U.S. sanctions.

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With reports from Robert Fife, Daniel Leblanc and The Canadian Press

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