Head of Think Tank Urges China to Release Detained Canadian Michael Kovrig

The president of the International Crisis Group has used a high-level U.N. Security Council meeting attended by China’s foreign minister to appeal for the release of Canadian Michael Kovrig, the think-tank ‘s northeast Asia expert. Robert Malley told a virtual council meeting Tuesday that the Crisis Group strives to be “an impartial conflict resolution organization,” and its staff try to understand the perspectives of all parties. He said that is what Kovrig was doing “in his work on China’s foreign policy.” China imprisoned Kovrig and Canadian Michael Spavor in December 2018, in what Ottawa says was retaliation for the arrest of a Chinese executive on a U.S. extradition warrant. Malley said it wasn’t the time or place to discuss Kovrig’s case, “but I cannot conclude without appealing to the Chinese authorities, if they are listening, to understand the mission he was pursuing, end his almost two-year detention, allow him at long last to be reunited with his loved ones and continue his work toward a more peaceful world.” The participants at the virtual council meeting were shown on the screen, and when Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi heard China mentioned he looked up and paid attention. But he made no mention of Kovrig in his speech to the council. German Ambassador Christoph Heusgen did, echoing Malley’s appeal “to liberate Michael Kovrig.” “He is not only a member of the International Crisis Group, but a former colleague of ours, a former diplomat,” Heusgen said. Britain’s acting ambassador, Jonathan Allen, echoed Heusgen, saying Kovrig’s case “causes us deep concern.” On Oct. 10, China granted consular access to Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor, both Canadians, for the first time since January. The following day, the Canadian government expressed serious concern at their “arbitrary detention” and called for their immediate release. China’s Foreign ministry spokesperson, Zhao Lijian, denied on Oct. 12 that the two Canadians had been arbitrarily detained in response to Canada’s arrest of an executive of Chinese technology giant Huawei. Despite its disavowals of any connection, Beijing has repeatedly tied the detentions to the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer and the daughter of the company’s founder. The U.S. is seeking her extradition on fraud charges and the case is before Canadian courts. Bilateral ties have suffered as China has upped its demands that Canada release Meng, who was detained during a stopover in Vancouver in December 2018 and is currently living in one of her mansions in that city while fighting extradition. Kovrig and Spavor were detained days later. By Edith M. Lederer

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‘This Is Outrageous’: Chinese Ambassador’s Strong Words Condemned by Politicians, Rights Advocates

Chinese Ambassador Cong Peiwu’s warning that Canada should not grant asylum to Hong Kong refugees if it cares about the “good health and safety” of Canadians in Hong Kong has drawn scathing criticism from politicians and rights advocates. Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole said Cong’s statement was a threat to the 300,000 Canadians living in Hong Kong. “It was of the kind of tone and tenor one would expect from someone seeking protection money—not someone who is the official emissary of a member of the United Nations Security Council,” O’Toole said in a statement. “A threat to Canadians anywhere, is a threat to Canadians everywhere.” China’s Ambassador to Canada Cong Peiwu speaks at an event in Ottawa on March 4, 2020. (The Canadian Press/Justin Tang) O’Toole said Cong should retract his remarks and issue a public apology. He also called on the government to sanction those responsible for restricting freedoms in Hong Kong, and to expedite refugee cases of those fleeing Hong Kong to Canada “to make it clear that only the Canadian government will determine who does and does not get admitted to this country.” Michael Chong, Conservative shadow minister for foreign affairs, also condemned Cong’s comments. “This is outrageous,” he said on Twitter. “Last year, China’s envoy said Canadians are white supremacists – this from a country that’s detained a million Uighurs. Now, this envoy says Canada’s acceptance of Hong Kong refugees jeopardizes Canadians in Hong Kong.” On Sept. 15, Cong warned Canada against granting asylum to Hong Kong residents fleeing the city due to the national security law imposed by Beijing, saying it would amount to “interference in China’s domestic affairs and certainly it will embolden those violent criminals.” “So if the Canadian side really cares about the stability and the prosperity in Hong Kong, and really cares about the good health and safety of those 300,000 Canadian passport holders in Hong Kong, and the large number of Canadian companies operating in Hong Kong SAR, you should support those efforts to fight violent crimes,” Cong said in a video press conference from the Chinese Embassy marking the 50th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Canada and China. Liberal MP Anthony Housefather also criticized Cong. “The comments of the Chinese Ambassador to Canada are completely unacceptable. It makes me all the more determined to speak out against China’s arbitrary detention of the 2 Michaels and its actions in HK and against the Uighurs,” he wrote on Twitter. Beijing implemented the new national-security law in Hong Kong in June, allowing the regime’s law enforcement to exercise jurisdiction over the city, eroding its autonomy. In September, Canada granted asylum to two Hong Kong pro-democracy activists who arrived here in December 2019, the Globe and Mail reports. “We strongly urge the Canadian side not to grant so-called political asylum to those violent criminals in Hong Kong,” Cong said at his press conference. Alliance Canada Hong Kong, a group calling for Canadian support of Hong Kong, also condemned Cong’s remarks. “We will not stand down. We ask you to continue your support for Hong Kongers and those seeking for a safe haven. Please email and contact your MP to show your support!” Shuvaloy Majumdar, a former director of policy to Canada’s foreign minister, said via Twitter: “Brutal threat against Canadians by the Chinese Ambassador to Canada.” Alex Neve, former secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, said on Twitter, “Talk about strengthening the case for refugee status!” A woman holds a sign with photographs of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who have been detained in China since December, 2018, during a rally in support of Hong Kong democracy in Vancouver on Aug. 16, 2020. (The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck) During a press conference on Oct. 15 marking the 50th anniversary of Canada’s diplomatic ties with China, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke more strongly than in the past regarding Beijing’s arrest of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig. The two have been detained in China since shortly after Canada’s arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver in December 2018 for extradition to the United States. “We will remain absolutely committed to working with our allies to ensure that China’s approach of coercive diplomacy, its arbitrary detention of two Canadian citizens, alongside other citizens of other countries around the world, is not viewed as a successful tactic by them,” he said. Cong said Canada’s efforts to get its allies to help secure the release of Kovrig and Spavor are “doomed to fail” Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan recently called the detention of the two Canadians “hostage diplomacy.” Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne is expected to unveil a new foreign policy approach for dealing with Beijing later this year. ‘White Supremacists’ This is not the first time a Chinese official has lashed out against Canada. On Dec. 5, 2019, in response to a motion that was yet to be tabled by two Conservative senators calling for Ottawa to use the Magnitsky law to sanction Chinese officials involved in rights violations in Hong Kong, Cong said Beijing would “make very firm countermeasures to this,” and that “it is not in the interest of the Canada side.” Cong’s predecessor, Lu Shaye, called Canada and its Western allies “white supremacists” in January 2019 for demanding the release of Kovrig and Spavor. “The reason why some people are used to arrogantly adopting double standards is due to Western egotism and white supremacy,” Lu wrote in a Hill Times op-ed. After Meng was first arrested, Beijing warned Ottawa that if she was not released  immediately there would be “serious consequences.” During a news conference in Ottawa in June 2016, China’s foreign minister Wang Yi appeared visibly angry and snapped at a reporter who asked him about China’s human rights record and the jailing in China of Canadian Kevin Garratt. Wang said the “question is full of prejudice against China and arrogance. … This is totally unacceptable.”

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