A White House reporter inquired on the Biden administration's involvement with freeing two Canadian diplomats held in Chinese custody for three years.
The two men, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, were released on Friday from Chinese custody, where they had been held since December 2018. They were widely believed to be held as a means of "hostage diplomacy," as their detainment came only 9 days after Huawei's Meng Wanzhou was taken into custody in Canada.
"The President and every member of our administration, and National Security Officials who have had contact with Chinese Officials over the past nine months had made clear that they want to see the release of the 2 Michaels," responded White House spokesperson Jen Psaki in response to a reporter's question about whether this would incentivize China to seize foreign nationals for international leverage.
She said the same applied to all US citizens unable to leave China.
The reporter asked Psaki if the Biden administration facilitated the release of the "two Michaels," as Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor are known.
"We make the case consistently at every level, and we have for some time now, including in the President's call with President Xi about the importance of these two individuals returning to their home," she responded.
The reporter asked if the case of the two Michaels created an incentive structure for the Chinese regime to hold hostage foreign nationals as political leverage.
"I think it's important to note and to be very clear about this," added Psaki: "there is no link."
"We have an independent justice department. We can't determine how the Chinese or others manage their business over there [as it's a little different]," she continued.
But Psaki said it was "no secret" the Biden administration advocated for their release.
Another reporter contested there is a link, stating, "China has long linked those two things."
"Given their release and the timing of her release, how do communicate clearly it wasn't a concession to them?" she asked.
Psaki responded: "Our system clearly works different than the Chinese system. How we communicate that clearly is to reiterate that this was a legal decision made by the Department of Justice."
She added the DOJ can speak to the reasoning and decision-making process.
Psaki pivoted to address concerns this decision meant a change in America's China policy. "That is absolutely not the case," she said, citing this was a "legal decision."
Kovrig and Spavor have been held in Chinese custody since December 2018 on charges of espionage. In August, Spavor was sentenced to 11 years in prison, while Kovrig awaited sentencing.
Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou recently reached a deferred prosecution agreement with the US after being placed on house arrest in BC since December 2018.
She awaited extradition to the US for supposedly violating US sanctions against Iran. Meng pleaded not guilty on several fraud charges Friday.
The two Michaels were arrested nine days before Wanzhou under China's state secrets laws, with their arrest alleged to have been in retaliation for Meng's detainment.