Two Canadian men who have been detained by China for more than two years, in what Canada sees as retribution for its arrest of a Chinese executive, are in good mental and physical condition, Ottawa’s ambassador to Beijing said on Tuesday.

China arrested businessman Michael Spavor and former diplomat Michael Kovrig in early December 2018, shortly after Canadian police picked up Huawei Technologies Co Ltd Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. warrant. The two men face spying charges.

“They are both very healthy, physically and mentally,” Ambassador Dominic Barton told a special parliamentary committee on Canada’s ties with China.

“I am deeply inspired by their resilience and their mindset – it’s incredible given what they’re going through … they are very, very strong and it’s remarkable,” he added.

The affair has badly damaged bilateral relations. Canada, which says the return of the two men is a priority, condemns what it calls “hostage diplomacy” and dismisses Beijing’s insistence that the detentions are not linked to Meng’s arrest.

Canada is trying to balance demands for the return of the two men and the insistence China improve its human rights record with what it says is the need to talk to Beijing about economic ties and climate change.

“There are times when we need to challenge China and work with partners to hold them to account,” Barton said.

“We are concerned by the decline in civil and political rights in China.”

Chinese authorities, citing the risk of the coronavirus, blocked access by Canadian diplomats for many months. Barton said he was allowed virtual visits in October after months of pressure and also spoke to the two individually last month.

Reuters reported last week that U.S. prosecutors were discussing a deal with Meng’s lawyers to resolve criminal charges against her.

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