China Downplays 2 Canadian Prisoners Released As Part of Agreement for Huawei Executive

China is downplaying that two Canadians arrested in the country in 2019 were released as part of a prisoner swap with the U.S. and Canada.

Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig were detained under accusations of endangering China's national security. Their arrests came days after U.S. authorities requested Canada detain Meng Wanzhou, Huawei Technology's chief financial officer, following misdealings between the company and Iran.

On Friday, Meng was released in Canada following an agreement that the U.S. Department of Justice drop her case. She arrived back in China on Saturday, while Spavor and Kovrig were released on Monday after over 1,000 days in jail.

China's Foreign Ministry downplayed the prisoner swap played a role in their release. In a statement, the ministry said a "diagnosis by professional medical institutions, and with the guarantee of the Canadian ambassador to China. Hua Chunying, the Foreign Ministry's spokesperson did not disclose the health reasons that led to their release.

According to a statement from Global Affairs Canada: "As we have said from the beginning, Michael Kovrig's and Michael Spavor's detention, and the treatment they were subjected to up until their departure from China, was arbitrary. These two men are innocent."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Prisoner Swap in China
In this Sept. 24, 2021, file photo, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stands with Minister of Foreign Affairs Marc Garneau to announce that Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig have been released from detention in China, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. China's Foreign Ministry said Monday, Sept. 27, 2021, that the two Canadians were released on bail for health reasons. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press via AP, File) Justin Tang/Associated Press

Canada has maintained that Kovrig and Spavor were innocent of any charges.

Spavor, an entrepreneur, had been sentenced to 11 years in prison, accused of spying. Korvrig had not yet been sentenced but was facing similar charges.

Many countries labeled China's action "hostage politics," while China accused Canada of arbitrary detention.

"The case of Meng Wanzhou is completely different from that of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in nature," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said at a daily briefing on Monday.

Hua said Meng was a victim of "political persecution" and was able to return to China thanks to the "government's unrelenting efforts."

In contrast, news about the release of the two Michaels was reported by the state-owned tabloid Global Times, and while the news spread online, it was not carried by more authoritative state media agencies such as CCTV or Xinhua News Agency.

Huawei is the biggest global supplier of network gear for phone and internet companies. It has been a symbol of China's progress in becoming a technological world power — and a subject of U.S. security and law enforcement concerns.

Former President Donald Trump's administration cut off Huawei's access to U.S. components and technology, including Google's music and other smartphone services, and later barred vendors worldwide from using U.S. technology to produce components for Huawei.