The United States will continue to seek the extradition of jailed technology executive Meng Wanzhou, the US Department of Justice confirmed, news that will intensify a high-stakes dispute between China and the United States.

Meng, who is CFO for Huawei Technologies, was arrested in Vancouver, British Columbia, on December 1 on US fraud charges related to US sanctions law. Not long after, Chinese authorities detained two Canadian men on security charges, widely seen as retribution for Canada's arrest of Meng.

The standoff has left Canada caught between its extradition obligations to Washington and an outraged Beijing, which has warned of unspecified consequences should Canada proceed with the case against Meng or take action against her company.

Canadian officials have stressed throughout that Meng's case is a legal matter, not a political one, a message reiterated by the US Department of Justice.


"We will continue to pursue the extradition of defendant Ms Meng Wanzhou, and will meet all deadlines set by the US/Canada Extradition Treaty," said Marc Raimondi, a spokesman for the Department of Justice, in a statement. "We greatly appreciate Canada's continuing support in our mutual efforts to enforce the rule of law."

News that the US will indeed meet a January 30 deadline to request Meng's extradition suggests the conflict over her case could stretch on for months, or even years, as Canadian courts consider the extradition case and process possible appeal.

It also comes amid growing concern about the safety of foreign nationals in China.

Yesterday, more than 140 academics and former government officials wrote an open letter to President Xi Jinping, saying the detention of two Canadians in China is making academics and others cautious about travelling to the country.

They called for the immediate release of the two men, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who have been held without access to lawyers or family members since being arrested for "endangering national security" more than a month ago.

"We who share Mr Kovrig's and Mr Spavor's enthusiasm for building genuine, productive and lasting relationships must now be more cautious about travelling and working in China and engaging our Chinese counterparts," the signatories wrote in the letter, which was first published in Canada's Globe and Mail but was sent to other media outlets.

"That will lead to less dialogue and greater distrust, and undermine efforts to manage disagreements and identify common ground. Both China and the rest of the world will be worse off as a result," they wrote.

Kovrig is a former Canadian diplomat who has been working as the China analyst for the International Crisis Group, an organisation with a mission to "build a more peaceful world."


He was arrested in Beijing on December 10 and has been held ever since in a detention centre, in solitary confinement with the lights on 24 hours a day. He has been questioned about his previous work as a diplomat, leading Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to say Beijing was not respecting diplomatic immunity.

Spavor was based in Dandong, a city on the Chinese border with North Korea, where he ran Paektu Exchanges, an organization promoting cultural exchanges and business relationships with North Korea. A fluent speaker of Korean, he arranged one of former basketball star Dennis Rodman's trips to North Korea and has spent extended periods of time with leader Kim Jong Un.

Spavor has been held in circumstances similar to Kovrig's in a detention centre in Dandong, where he is being interrogated about his work.

The signatories to the letter include former US Ambassadors to China Gary Locke and Winston Lord, and the Asia director on President Barack Obama's National Security Council, Evan Medeiros.

Others who signed include Bonnie Glaser and Scott Kennedy from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies; Elizabeth Economy from the Council on Foreign Relations; Orville Schell of the Asia Society; and Ely Ratner of the Centre for a New American Security.

The kinds of meetings and exchanges that Kovrig and Spavor had and promoted, the letter said, were "the foundation of serious research and diplomacy around the world, including for Chinese scholars and diplomats."

The detentions of the two men "send a message that this kind of constructive work is unwelcome and even risky in China," they wrote.

The editor of the hawkish Global Times, a Chinese English-language newspaper, warned that there would be consequences for Ottawa's actions. China will "take revenge" if Meng is not completely freed, Hu Xijin said in a video posted at the time of the men's arrest.

US President Donald Trump has suggested that he might be willing to make a deal to release Meng if China gives in to his demands in the countries' trade war - provoking a rebuke from Ottawa, which said the arrest was not for political gain.

China appeared to up the ante last week when a court sentenced a Canadian man to death for drug smuggling.

Robert Schellenberg, 36, was sentenced to 15 years in prison late last year after being convicted of trying to send methamphetamine to Australia. But in a hasty one-day retrial last week, his sentence was changed, to death.

This was also seen as linked to the detention of Meng, although China insists that it was following the rule of law.