VANCOUVER -- A UBC Professor says Canada should send Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou back to China in order to secure the release of two Canadian men being held in Chinese prison cells.

After detaining the men for more than 500 days, China has now officially laid charges against them. Former diplomat Michael Kovrig was charged in Beijing on suspicion of spying for state secrets and intelligence. Businessman Michael Spavor was charged in Dandong, near the North Korean border, on suspicion of spying for a foreign entity and illegally providing state secrets.

On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was “disappointed” with the development.

Since their arrests, both men have endured hours of interrogation without legal counsel.

“What’s really hard for the two Michaels is they’re hearing those charges, but they don’t have context and they don’t have a way out,” said Yves Tiberghien, a professor of political science at UBC who is also a distinguished fellow of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.

Tiberghien says the men have also not had consular access since January, when it was stopped due to the COVID-19 outbreak in China.

Tiberghien’s colleague, Wenran Jiang, an adjunct professor with UBC’s School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, says the charges are China’s retaliation for the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.

“We should understand, with no illusions, that from the very beginning the Chinese side has viewed the arrest of Meng as an hostage-taking situation by the Americans, and aided by the Canadians, and they retaliated and this is a step-by-step situation,” Jiang said.

Both professors say the cases will now go to trial, with Tiberghien adding that because of the nature of the charges, it will be “a secret trial and secret sentencing and we’ll just find out the outcome eventually.”

He believes the men will be found guilty, and once that happens there would be grounds for a diplomatic resolution under the Chinese system where the men can be expelled from the country and brought back to Canada. But, he says, that process could take years.

Jiang is less optimistic, saying the only way to guarantee the release of the two men is to send Wanzhou back to China.

“People would complain, people would say we’re caving to pressure, but at the end of the day I think that’s the way to get the two Michaels released from China,” Jiang said.

The Huawei executive is currently under house arrest in Vancouver after a B.C. Supreme court judge ruled her extradition case should go ahead, citing “double criminality.”