Prisoners faced arbitrary arrest, then harsh conditions . . .
On December 10, 2018, China arrested two Canadian citizens: Michael Kovrig (an ex-diplomat posted in China and senior analyst for the International Crisis Group, an esteemed global think-tank) and Michael Spavor (a Canadian consultant who has worked extensively in North Korea). The Canadians’ arrest is widely seen as retaliation for the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver nine days earlier. One year after their detention, Kovrig and Spavor remain in prison for unspecified “activities jeopardizing Chinese national security.” And as Meng awaits her extradition trial while living in her Vancouver mansion, the two Michaels are being held in harsh conditions, highlighting the gap between the two countries’ legal systems and standards for treatment of prisoners.
A way forward . . .
Countless editorials and opinion articles published since the arrests have urged the Canadian government to take a harder stance on China. One commentator went so far as to suggest closing Canada’s airspace to Chinese aircraft, though it is unclear how such an action would lead to the release of the two Canadians. While Ottawa must clearly express its discontent to counterparts in Beijing and work with other like-minded countries facing similar issues, it must first prioritize securing better conditions for Kovrig and Spavor, who have been all but cut off from the world for a year now. This could be a welcomed first step on which both sides can build and work with the United States toward resolving the issue.
Impact on Canada-China relations . . .
The arrest of the two Michaels is certainly having an impact on Canada’s relations with China. On this grim anniversary, we are reminded that this is not the first time Canadians have been detained in China for political purposes (see the story of Christian aid workers Julia and Kevin Garratt, who were ultimately released after 775 days of imprisonment). Such arrests obviously have a chilling effect on those wanting to engage with China, but with so many forces and interests at play, the Canada-China relationship will most likely endure in spite of the unjustified imprisonment of these two Canadians on Chinese soil.