HONG KONG—A Chinese court has tried a Canadian citizen on espionage charges in a case at the center of a diplomatic standoff with the U.S. and Canada, concluding the hourslong hearing without issuing a verdict.
Michael Spavor, who was charged with “probing into and illegally providing state secrets” to foreign actors, attended the closed-door trial on Friday with his lawyer, according to a statement from a municipal court in the northeastern city of Dandong, where the proceedings took place.
Mr. Spavor, who has spent more than two years in custody, couldn’t be reached. Efforts to reach his lawyer weren’t immediately successful. The Canadian Embassy in Beijing didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Mr. Spavor, who ran a Dandong-based nonprofit, is one of two Canadians detained by Chinese authorities in December 2018 and later charged with espionage offenses. Their detention is widely seen as retaliation for Canada’s arrest of a senior executive from Chinese telecom-gear giant Huawei Technologies Co. at the behest of the U.S. The other Canadian, Michael Kovrig, is scheduled to stand trial in Beijing on Monday.
These cases have locked China into a high-stakes diplomatic standoff with Canada and the U.S., with officials trading barbs over the detentions and accusing each other of taking hostages to advance political goals.
Mr. Spavor’s trial was closed to the public because state secrets were involved, the Dandong Intermediate People’s Court said in its statement, issued three hours after the scheduled start of Mr. Spavor’s hearing. It said a verdict would be issued later at an unspecified date.
Diplomats from at least nine Western countries, including Canada and the U.S., sought access to the trial but were unsuccessful, according to a person briefed on the matter. Chinese courts typically try national-security cases behind closed doors.
Legal experts say Chinese authorities could delay the verdict as long as they want. While Chinese law typically requires courts to issue verdicts within two to three months of accepting a case, time extensions are allowed for major and complicated cases, among other circumstances.
A news website of the Communist Party’s law-enforcement commission has accused Mr. Spavor of supplying intelligence to Mr. Kovrig, a researcher on leave from Canada’s diplomatic service. Chinese authorities have said that Mr. Kovrig faces charges of “probing into state secrets and intelligence” on behalf of foreign actors.
Mr. Spavor’s nonprofit, Paektu Cultural Exchange, organized academic, tourist and business trips to North Korea. Mr. Kovrig, an analyst with Brussels-based conflict monitor International Crisis Group, was detained while he was visiting Beijing from his Hong Kong base and drafting a research report on North Korea, friends say.
The two men were detained separately on the same day in December 2018. Days earlier, a senior Chinese Foreign Ministry official had threatened Canada with “severe consequences” for the arrest of Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou, who was detained earlier that month while transiting through Vancouver. The U.S. has accused Ms. Meng of misleading banks about Huawei’s ties to a subsidiary that did business in Iran, leading those banks to clear transactions that potentially violated international sanctions. Huawei and Ms. Meng have denied any wrongdoing.
The two Canadians have had limited contact with their families and the outside world since their detention, largely restricted to supervised visits with Canadian consular officials and their China-based lawyers.
Canadian officials have accused Beijing of detaining Messrs. Spavor and Kovrig as leverage in efforts to secure Ms. Meng’s release. Chinese officials have denied that the cases against the two Canadians were spurred by the arrest of Ms. Meng, who is on bail in Vancouver, where she faces extradition proceedings.
Foreign diplomats say Beijing is unlikely to let Messrs. Kovrig and Spavor go unless Ms. Meng is released. The U.S. Justice Department had been discussing a deal with Ms. Meng that would allow her to return to China in exchange for admitting wrongdoing, though those discussions have since stalled.
Mr. Spavor’s hearing coincided with talks between senior U.S. and Chinese officials in Alaska, the first high-level, in-person meeting between the two governments since President Biden took office. It wasn’t clear if the two Canadians’ cases were discussed at the meeting.
Write to Chun Han Wong at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8