A third Canadian citizen has been detained in China, according to Global Affairs Canada, the country's foreign ministry. A ministry spokesperson declined to identify the citizen, citing provisions of Canada's Privacy Act.
"Consular officials are providing assistance to the family," the spokesperson added in a statement to NPR. It remains unclear what led to the detainment.
China's Foreign Affairs Ministry reportedly has said that it was not aware of a third Canadian detained in China.
The news adds to the deepening dispute between the two countries, which began with Canada's arrest of a high-profile Chinese telecommunications executive on Dec. 1. Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Huawei and daughter of its founder, was arrested at the request of the U.S. on suspicion that she had been seeking to circumvent U.S. sanctions on Iran.
Meng has been released on bail as she awaits an extradition hearing, though she has been ordered to remain in Canada in the meantime.
Since her arrest, China has detained at least two Canadian citizens: former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor. However, authorities have not officially drawn a link between these incidents and Meng's own arrest, and Canadian officials did not say the third detention was connected.
Nevertheless, the timing has raised suspicions that, as one former premier of Ontario put it, the incidents represent "repression and retaliation." The International Crisis Group, where Kovrig serves as North East Asia adviser, also had strong words for Beijing in its most recent statement: "Michael's arrest is unjust. He should be freed immediately," said Robert Malley, the group's president and CEO.
"Far from being secretive, Michael's work was open for all to see, Chinese officials first and foremost," Malley added. "The real danger to China comes from Michael's arbitrary arrest and detention for these will have a chilling effect on people wanting to visit and engage with the country."
Indeed, as NPR's Yuki Noguchi reported this week, U.S. and Canadian executives have already begun viewing travel to China with an increasingly wary eye, fearful that they may be pulled into the trans-Pacific diplomatic dispute.