The Chinese government has denied accusations of “hostage diplomacy,” but its detention, arrest and trial of the two Canadians offered a means for Beijing to remind Ottawa — and Washington — that their fate was also at stake. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said the United States welcomed the men’s release “after more than two-and-a-half years of arbitrary detention.”
For more than 1,000 days, the two Canadians were held in China in separate prisons, accused of espionage, without evidence, and forced to go months without visits from diplomats.
The two men — Mr. Kovrig, a former diplomat, and Mr. Spavor, an entrepreneur — were once relatively low-profile expatriates working in Asia. They became symbols of the consequences of Beijing’s increasingly aggressive foreign policy, their detentions widely perceived as retribution for Ms. Meng’s arrest.
In August, a court in northeastern China, where Mr. Spavor has lived, sentenced him to 11 years in prison after declaring him guilty of spying. Mr. Kovrig had been awaiting a verdict in his case.
During his detainment, Mr. Kovrig, who worked for a nonprofit organization, was confined to a small jail cell in Beijing and subjected to repeated interrogations. His diet was at times restricted to rice and boiled vegetables, he told his family.
The Chinese authorities kept Mr. Kovrig so isolated that he was not aware of the details of the coronavirus pandemic until October when Canadian diplomats informed him during a virtual visit, according to his wife, Vina Nadjibulla.
Mr. Spavor, a businessman, forged a career doing business with North Korea. He helped organize a visit to North Korea by Mr. Rodman, the retired basketball player, in 2013 and then a second visit the following year. Mr. Spavor’s company, Paektu Cultural Exchange, posted a picture showing Mr. Spavor with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, on Mr. Kim’s yacht in 2013.