After interrogating Canadian hostages Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor for two years and otherwise investigating them, China’s police clearly have no presentable case against them. The authorities in Dandong and Beijing conducted what they called trials of the two Canadian hostages on Friday and Monday but barred reporters and diplomats from attending the proceedings.
The obvious reason for holding the trials now was to threaten continued imprisonment of the two hostages while Chinese and U.S. delegations were meeting in Alaska to explore improved relations. The negotiations continued and the verdicts were deferred. These were show-trials. The obvious reason for excluding observers was that the police have no case. The prosecution was a no-show. If the police had persuasive evidence against the two Michaels, we would have heard it by now.
The world now sees what Canadians have known all along: Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor are innocent, and they are being held as hostages to compel Canada to bow to the will of the Chinese Communist government by releasing Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou from her comfortable house-arrest in Vancouver and from the threat of a prosecution for fraud in New York.
The exercise showed that China’s Communist government is not in the least embarrassed by its own barbaric cruelty in imprisoning and persecuting innocent hostages to coerce the government of a trade partner. China’s government believes hostage-taking is astute strategy — so much so that it is publicizing its cruelty at a moment when the world is watching. This is not a government that is having second thoughts about the wisdom of hostage-taking. Far from it. It is doubling down.
Canada organized a joint declaration against arbitrary detention, issued by 57 governments on Feb. 15 and later signed also by The Bahamas, North Macedonia and the Philippines. China hit the roof on that occasion because it thinks arbitrary detention is business as usual.
Diplomats from 20 countries including the United States turned out at the Beijing courthouse on Monday to stand with the Canadian Embassy’s deputy chief of mission, Jim Nickel, while Michael Kovrig was inside. These expressions of support from around the world should reassure Canadians that Canada’s position is sound. China, however, doesn’t care.
Disputes among trading partners arise all the time. For the most part, they are resolved peacefully — sometimes through negotiation, sometimes by courts of law. China has shown that it will grab hostages in order to bully other countries and defend the interests of a Chinese company with close ties to the Communist party.
Canada should draw logical conclusions from China’s behaviour. Canadian officials, scholars, entrepreneurs and consultants who need to visit China to conduct their business should be warned that they may be snatched off the street and clapped in prison any time the Chinese government thinks a hostage-taking may strengthen its hand in a dispute with Canada.
There is, however, no need to cut off all trade with China on this account. Those who are willing to take the risk should be welcome to do so. They should recognize, however, that once you are China’s hostage there is very little Canada can do for you. And if this does mean Canada will have to forgo commercial opportunities in China, that is a price we should happily pay to avoid repeating the cruelty inflicted on the two Michaels.