image source, AFPimage captionMichael Kovrig (r) and Michael Spavor have been held since 2018

Two Canadians freed by China after nearly three years in custody have arrived home, ending a diplomatic row between Beijing and the West.

Hours before their release, Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, detained in Canada, left for China. She has also now arrived back.

She was wanted on charges in the US.

In 2018 China accused Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig of espionage, denying detaining them was in retaliation for Ms Meng's arrest.

Critics have accused China of using them as political bargaining chips.

Mr Spavor and Mr Kovrig arrived in the western city of Calgary just before 06:00 local time (12:00 GMT) and were met by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Ms Meng touched down in Shenzhen, China, a couple of hours later.

The two men had maintained their innocence throughout. At a news conference on Friday, Mr Trudeau said they had been through "an unbelievably difficult ordeal".

"It is good news for all of us that they are on their way home to their families," he added. "For the past 1,000 days, they have shown strength, perseverance, resilience and grace."

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The two men were accompanied on their return by Dominic Barton, Canada's ambassador to China.

Before her release, Ms Meng – the daughter of Ren Zhengfei, the billionaire founder of Chinese telecoms giant Huawei – admitted misleading US investigators about Huawei's business dealings in Iran.

She spent three years under house arrest in Canada while fighting extradition to the United States.

Deal or domino effect?

Meng Wenzhou is on her way back here full of praise and thanks for what she called "the motherland" and China's ruling Communist Party – a party that her employer Huawei has gone to extraordinary lengths to try to distance itself from.

As soon as her freedom was assured, China released the two Canadians it's held since days after her arrest.

Whether it's a deal or a domino effect is not clear, but only weeks ago the Chinese government insisted yet again the two cases were not linked. "Different in nature," it said.

The decision to release and send home Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig almost instantly after Meng Wenzhou was free to go appears to show that pretence has been abandoned.

Mr Kovrig is a former diplomat employed by International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank.

Mr Spavor is a founding member of an organisation that facilitates international business and cultural ties with North Korea.

In August this year a Chinese court sentenced Mr Spavor to 11 years in prison for espionage. There had been no decision in Mr Kovrig's case.

On Friday, a Canadian judge ordered the release of Ms Meng, Huawei's chief financial officer, after she reached a deal with US prosecutors over fraud charges against her.

Huawei released a statement, in which it said it looked forward to seeing Ms Meng reunited with her family and saying it would continue to defend itself in court.

media caption"My life has been turned upside down," Ms Meng tells reporters after being freed from Canadian detention

Before her arrest, US prosecutors accused Ms Meng of fraud, alleging that she misled banks into processing transactions for Huawei that broke US sanctions against Iran.

As part of a deferred prosecution agreement, Ms Meng admitted to misleading HSBC about Huawei's relationship with Skycom, a Hong-Kong based company that operated in Iran.

The US justice department said in a statement that it was continuing to prepare for trial against Huawei, which is still on a trade blacklist.

Ms Meng is the elder daughter of Mr Zhengfei, who set up Huawei in 1987. He also served in the Chinese army for nine years, until 1983, and is a member of the Chinese Communist Party.

Huawei itself is now the largest telecom equipment maker in the world. It has faced accusations that Chinese authorities could use its equipment for espionage – allegations it denies.

In 2019, the US imposed sanctions on Huawei and placed it on an export blacklist, cutting it off from key technologies.

The UK, Sweden, Australia and Japan have also banned Huawei, while other countries including France and India have adopted measures stopping short of an outright ban.