Canadian ex-diplomat held in China: Trudeau, think tank

Former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig now works for the International Crisis Group think tank (AFP Photo/Julie DAVID DE LOSSY)

Ottawa (AFP) - A Canadian, believed to be a former diplomat, has been detained in China, prompting concern in Ottawa and Washington, as Beijing fumes over the arrest of a senior technology executive.

"We are aware of the situation of a Canadian detained in China. We have been in direct contact with the Chinese," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters, adding that Ottawa was taking his arrest "very seriously."

The International Crisis Group earlier said it was aware of reports of the detention of its employee Michael Kovrig, a Chinese-speaking expert who served as a Canadian diplomat in Beijing, Hong Kong and at the United Nations.

"We are doing everything possible to secure additional information on Michael's whereabouts as well as his prompt and safe release," the think tank said in a statement.

The United States reacted quickly, calling on Beijing to abide by its commitments to human rights.

"We urge China to end all forms of arbitrary detentions and to respect the protections and freedom of all individuals under China's international human rights and consular commitments," deputy State Department spokesman Robert Palladino told reporters."

There was no immediate official word from China but the detention comes after Canada's arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of telecoms giant Huawei, on a US extradition request.

Meng, who was stopped while changing planes in Vancouver, is suspected of violating US sanctions on Iran.

Earlier Tuesday, China warned that it would not tolerate any "bullying" of its citizens abroad and has demanded Meng's release.

A judge in Vancouver was expected to make a ruling later Tuesday on whether Meng could be released on bail.

Canadian Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said Ottawa was "deeply concerned" by the detention of one of its citizens, adding that he had expressed to Beijing "how seriously Canadians view this."

"We are obviously worried about whenever a Canadian is put in a situation that puts them at some risk or jeopardy where there's no apparent or obvious cause or trigger for that," he told reporters.

He added that there was "no explicit indication" that Kovrig's detention was linked to Meng's arrest.

Kovrig went to work last year for the ICG, which is known for its research on peaceful solutions to global conflicts.