BEIJING — China said Wednesday that a former Canadian diplomat who has been detained in Beijing was employed by an organization that was “not registered in China legally,” citing a law passed in 2016 that has had a chilling effect on the work of foreign charities, universities and nonprofit groups in the country.
The assertion was China’s first official comment on the detention of Michael Kovrig, senior adviser for Northeast Asia for the International Crisis Group, an independent nongovernmental organization that tries to defuse international conflict.
Mr. Kovrig was detained on Monday night by the Beijing bureau of the Ministry of State Security, the group said Wednesday. The arrest occurred less than a week after Canada announced the arrest of a senior Chinese tech executive for extradition to the United States, angering the Chinese government.
“In this case, if I.C.G. personnel conduct activities in China, then that will already violate Chinese law,” Lu Kang, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, said at a regularly scheduled briefing on Wednesday.
Asked directly if the International Crisis Group was registered in China, Mr. Lu said: “It is not registered in China legally.” The spokesman did not mention Mr. Kovrig by name or his group by its full name, only its acronym.
“If I.C.G. said its personnel was conducting activities in China, then according to the Chinese N.G.O. law of 2016, then they will be violating Chinese law because they have not registered in China,” Mr. Lu said.
The group did not immediately respond to a request for comment on its legal status in China. Earlier Wednesday, its president said Mr. Kovrig had not engaged in illegal activities.
“I am not willing to speculate as to the reason why the Chinese authorities chose to do what they did,” said Rob Malley, president and chief executive of the International Crisis Group. “I am willing to state categorically what is not the reason for Michael’s detention. He did not engage in illegal activities. He was not endangering Chinese national security.”
Mr. Malley added, “He was doing what all Crisis Group analysts do: objective and impartial research and policy recommendations to end deadly conflict.”