The old adage “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” comes to mind when discussing the current ‘hostage’ situation involving China’s Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou and Canada’s Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.
Kovrig and Spavor have been detained in China since 2018, and their release is increasingly improbable given Beijing’s ruling to indict them on the alleged crime of espionage, with little evidence to suggest that they are, indeed, culpable. The more likely evidence-based explanation for their detainment is that Beijing is playing politics and engaging in hostage negotiations to get Wanzhou back.
On the one side of the debate, we have 19 prominent Canadians, including former parliamentarians and senior diplomats, calling on the Canadian Minister of Justice to end the extradition proceeding against Wanzhou to secure the release of the two Michaels. On the other hand, we have 30 Canadian defence and national security experts signed an open letter urging the Prime Minister to stand firm and not to engage in hostage diplomacy. It is truly a modern-day case of Homeric proportions, with the Canadian government being caught between Scylla and Charybdis.
Many Canadians concur with the Prime Minister that it would be disastrous to engage in hostage diplomacy with China, arguing that the best response is to levy sanctions against the Chinese Communist Party officials using the Sergei Magnitsky Law. Undoubtedly, it is an arduous decision with both sides expressing valid points and, ultimately, everyone empathizes with the two Michaels and their families.
It appears that Canada is experiencing a moral crisis of what to do, and a simple solution does not seem likely. What is required to fix this issue is a hard and earnest look at Canada’s relationship with China. Increasing globalization and trade relationships with China have not brought forth the democratic reforms our politicians and business leaders had hoped. It is exceedingly unlikely that China will miraculously abide by international law concerning human rights while under an autocratic, totalitarian regime.
One thing seems abundantly clear – many Canadian politicians have been reticent to criticize China. The pursuit of trade agreements and corporate profits supersede truth, justice, and human rights. And now, it has come back to bite us squarely in the backside. Perhaps it is time for the Canadian government to admit that reforms are not happening in China despite the signing of a free trade agreement and to look for trade partners elsewhere. The opportunities for new trade partners are limitless; we just have to be willing to admit that China is not going to change and work through some growing pains for a better, safer, and more just future.