Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor
Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor

China says two Canadian citizens who have been in detention since late last year have been formally charged with stealing state secrets, a move that is expected to further increase tension between the two countries.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang announced the arrests of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor on Thursday in Beijing during a regular press briefing. Lu said the arrests were made in accordance with Chinese law. Lu said China hopes that Ottawa "will not make irresponsible remarks" about the country's judicial system. 

In a statement issued hours after Beijing's announcement, Canada's Foreign Ministry said Ottawa "strongly condemns" the "arbitrary arrest" of the two men and demanded their immediate release. 

Kovrig and Spavor were detained separately Dec. 10 on suspicion of "engaging in activities that endanger the national security of China." The move came days after Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer for Chinese tech giant Huawei, was arrested at the Vancouver airport on a U.S. warrant on charges of violating U.S. sanctions on Iran.

Huawei Technologies Co Chief Financial Officer Men
FILE - Huawei Technologies Co Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou arrives back at home after her court appearance in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, March 6, 2019.

Meng, the daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, is under house arrest awaiting possible extradition to the U.S.

Canada has refused China's demand to release Meng.

Kovrig once served Canada as a diplomat to Beijing. He is a senior adviser for the International Crisis Group, which researches peaceful solutions to global conflicts. Spavor is a businessman and director of an exchange group that arranges sports and educational exchanges with North Korea.

Another Canadian citizen sentenced to 15 years in prison on drug charges in China now faces the death penalty.