"I don't think China comprehends how powerfully this is resonating internationally, awakening long-ignored questions about China risk, and prompting new thinking about countering China's increasing reliance on hostage diplomacy and economic blackmail", said David Mulroney, Canada's envoy to China from 2009 to 2012, after the news Thursday that Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor have been formally arrested after months in Chinese detention.
China's move to detain the two men was widely interpreted in Canada as retaliation for the country's decision to arrest Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese tech giant Huawei. The telecoms executive is fighting extradition proceedings to the United States, where American officials allege she committed fraud.
"Everything in China is done in accordance with law", Lu, the Chinese government spokesman, told reporters Thursday.
Canada's government denounced the move.
"Canada strongly condemns their arbitrary arrest as we condemned their arbitrary detention on December 10. We reiterate our demand that China immediately release Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor", Canada's foreign ministry said.
No details of the men's detention or health conditions were provided due to Canadian privacy laws, but officials said that they would press for further access to the detainees.
"What we are always focused on is doing things that will help Canadians (who are) being detained".
"We will continue to defend these Canadians".
"China will take all the necessary measures to resolutely safeguard the legitimate rights of Chinese firms". Kovrig also holds Hungarian citizenship.
Since December, Kovrig and Spavor have been kept in cells at undisclosed locations with lights on round-the-clock and without access to lawyers or family members, people familiar with the matter say. "His work was completely transparent and out in the open for all to see, including for Chinese officials".
With their formal arrest, they could soon face trial, though it is unclear when that may be. They were recently arrested, according to both Chinese and Canadian officials.
Ms Meng, 47, is the daughter of Huawei Technologies Co Ltd's billionaire founder, Ren Zhengfei.
Meng, who is now on bail, faces charges of fraud related to an alleged breach of U.S. sanctions on Iran.
She has been ordered to wear an electronic anklet and hand over her passports after being released on bail in mid-December on a Can$10 million (S$10.2 million) bond.
Meng - who is now fighting extradition to the USA - is allowed to live in her Vancouver mansion, although her mobility is limited.