The issue of the Canadians was expected to come up as top Biden administration officials met their Chinese counterparts in Anchorage starting on Thursday. Friends and relatives of Mr. Spavor and Mr. Kovrig have called on President Biden and Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, to take action to secure their release.
American officials said on Friday that they were “deeply alarmed” by China’s decision to go forward with the trials of Mr. Spavor and Mr. Kovrig. “We stand shoulder to shoulder with Canada in calling for their immediate release,” a spokesman for the United States Embassy in Beijing said in a statement.
Any compromise with Beijing could be elusive, as China has not shown signs of backing down, instead using its prosecution of the two men to project an image of strength and demand that the United States withdraw its extradition request for Ms. Meng.
“Beijing is making it clear that the two Michaels will be put on trial with Chinese characteristics: closed to the public and to the media,” said Diana Fu, an associate professor of political science at the University of Toronto. “Its actions leave little doubt about who the ultimate decider of the Canadians’ fate will be — the Chinese Communist Party, not Biden, not Trudeau.”
The imprisonment of the two men has spurred calls in Canada for tougher action against China. According to a recent poll by the Angus Reid Institute, a leading polling company, only 14 percent of Canadians have a favorable view of China. A majority view the Chinese government’s freeing the two Canadians as a prerequisite to resetting relations.
“There is a backlash against China in Canada, and the trial will only harden attitudes,” said Gordon Houlden, director emeritus of the University of Alberta China Institute. He added that the case of the two Michaels underlined the limited leverage of a middle power like Canada when faced with an economic and political behemoth like China.
Legal experts and human rights activists have denounced China’s treatment of the Canadians, accusing Chinese officials of resorting to “hostage diplomacy.” The two men, held in separate prisons in northern China, have been largely cut off from the world and at times forced to go months without visits from diplomats. They have had limited access to defense lawyers.