It will be one year this Tuesday that China has held both Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor hostage.
It is an anniversary that no Canadian will celebrate and few in other western countries know much about.
The detention of the two Michaels, what China has tried to do to try to thwart Hong Kong’s democratic protests, and the jailing of one million or more Uighur Muslims in harsh reeducation camps, have moved the needle so much that only one Canadian in 10 has a favourable view of China, according to a Nanos poll published four months ago.
Despite Canadians’ negative feelings about China, Beijing’s jailing of the two Michaels on spurious allegations, and the stiff trade sanctions that China has slapped on Canadian agricultural imports, Ottawa remains hell-bent on its China First Policy. Prominent Canadians who have had close business ties to China, such as former prime minister Jean Chretien and Ottawa’s new ambassador, Dominic Barton, continue to rally Canadian business leaders to cash in on the bonanza over there.
Kovrig, a diplomat on extended leave from Global Affairs Canada and working as a senior analyst for International Crisis Group in Hong Kong was the first of the Michaels to be detained during a visit to Beijing. Not long afterwards, Spavor, a Korean-speaking entrepreneur who encourages closer cultural and business ties with North Korea, was seized in a town by Chinese authorities on the China-North Korea border. It is alleged that both Canadians had endangered China’s security.
The arrest of the two Michaels was in obvious retaliation for Canada having a few days earlier detained one of China’s most favoured daughters, Meng Wanzhou, while a court in Vancouver considers whether to extradite her to the United States to face 13 bank fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy charges. The allegations stem from accusations that Meng, as chief financial officer of China’s largest company, Huawei, which was started by her father, had violated American sanctions against Iran.
What appears to irk Canadians most is that although no charges have been filed yet against Kovrig and Spavor, they have been held under strong lights that are never turned off with no access to their families and only monthly consular visits. At the same time Meng was swiftly granted bail and has been living in her fancy Vancouver home. Other than wearing an ankle bracelet to make sure she does not leave the city, the billionairess has been free to swan around town while her father boasts that he has more money than Ottawa.
China’s former envoy to Ottawa, Lu Shaye, publicly accused Canadians of being “racists” and “white supremacists” because Meng had been stopped as she changed planes while flying from China to Mexico.
Such insults by an ambassador would usually provoke outrage and probably result in his expulsion. But Canada’s timorous response to almost anything that China says or does these days has Canada looking spineless, weak-kneed or faint-hearted. Pick your body part.
The strategy seems to be to endure any abuse that China’s Communist dictatorship hurls, lest complaining distresses Chairman Xi Jinping. Publicly rebuking China might, of course, make the two Michaels’ dreadful situation even worse. Sadly, it is hard not to conclude that of equal or greater importance to the Canadian government is that if it were to respond to China as China has to Canada, it could scupper the eternal hope of much greater trade with that country — though based on the current circumstances, this looks like a fatuous pipe dream.
Huawei is heavily backed by the state and has 5G cell telephone technology that it is keen to sell in Canada and elsewhere. To curry favour with Ottawa, it made a bribe of sorts last week, announcing plans to move its North American research centre from the U.S. to Ontario.
Yet at almost the same moment China’s new ambassador to Canada, Cong Peiwu, fired another diplomatic rocket. Cong warned Canada of “very firm countermeasures” if it ordered sanctions against any officials responsible for actions against Hong Kong’s pro-democracy demonstrators and the appalling treatment of Uighers. A gloomy subtext to these outrages has been growing concern over how China might respond to Hong Kong-style civil disobedience by millions of Taiwanese if Beijing finally makes good on its longstanding promise to invade their prosperous democracy.
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