Dandong (China) (AFP) -
A Canadian man detained in China for more than two years was set to face trial on Friday on espionage charges that Canada has attacked as 'trumped-up', with relations between Ottawa and Beijing at their lowest point in decades.
Michael Spavor is one of two Canadians detained, in apparent retaliation for Canada's arrest on a US extradition warrant of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, and formally charged last June with spying.
AFP saw a police van with tinted windows arriving at the court in the northeastern city of Dandong on Friday morning, surrounded by about a dozen police officers as it drove past reporters waiting outside.
Spavor's family have called for his unconditional release, insisting that he was innocent of the accusations.
His family described him as 'just an ordinary Canadian businessman who has done extraordinary things to build constructive ties' between Canada, China and North Korea.
Jim Nickel, the Charge d'affaires of the Canadian embassy in Beijing, told reporters outside the court that they were 'disappointed by the lack of transparency and the lack of access.'
He said he expected the case to begin at 10 am (0200 GMT).
A group of 10 diplomats from eight other countries including Britain, the US, France and Australia had also travelled to Dandong, in what Nickel described as a gesture of solidarity for Spavor and to 'register their opposition to arbitrary detention'.
'We appreciate the international support,' he told reporters.
Canada's foreign ministry said Thursday that Beijing had confirmed Canadian officials 'will not be granted permission to attend the trial' despite several official requests.
The trial of Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat, is scheduled to start on Monday in Beijing.
The two men have had almost no contact with the outside world since their detention.
Virtual consular visits only resumed in October after a nine-month hiatus that authorities said was due to the coronavirus pandemic.
China's judicial system convicts most people who stand trial and the two men face up to life in prison if found guilty of 'espionage' and 'providing state secrets'.
Beijing has insisted the detention of the two Canadians is lawful, while calling Meng's case 'a purely political incident'.
Meng -- whose father is Huawei founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei -- has been in a two-year battle against extradition to the US over charges the firm violated US sanctions on Iran.
Her court case in Vancouver has entered its final phase with hearings expected to end in mid-May, barring appeals.