Mr. Saint-Jacques, the former ambassador, cautioned that Washington would most likely prioritize its commercial and trade interests with China and that the men’s release would most likely be predicated on whether the United States withdrew its extradition request for Ms. Meng.
The imprisonment of the two men has spurred calls for tougher action against China. According to a recent poll by the Angus Reid Institute, a leading polling company, only 14 percent of Canadians have a favorable view of China. A majority view the Chinese government’s freeing the two Canadians as a prerequisite to resetting relations.
“There is a backlash against China in Canada, and the trial will only harden attitudes,” said Gordon Houlden, director emeritus of the University of Alberta China Institute. He added that the case of the two Michaels underlined the limited leverage of a middle power like Canada when faced with an economic and political behemoth like China.
Legal experts and human rights activists have denounced China’s treatment of the Canadians, accusing Chinese officials of resorting to “hostage diplomacy.” The two men, held in separate prisons in northern China, have been largely cut off from the world and at times forced to go months without visits from diplomats. They have had limited access to defense lawyers.
“Like so many instances in which Chinese authorities seek to silence a critic or settle a score, these cases have nothing to do with law,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch.
A self-described consultant, Mr. Spavor ran an organization in Dandong that promoted cultural trips to North Korea. He established high-level contacts there and once met North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un. In 2013, Mr. Spavor helped arrange a visit to North Korea by Dennis Rodman, the former N.B.A. star.
“Michael is just an ordinary Canadian businessman,” his family said in a statement before the trial on Friday. “He loved living and working in China and would never have done anything to offend the interests of China or the Chinese people. We stand by Michael and maintain his innocence in this difficult situation.”