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Blame Canada more — Beijing takes a hostage

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Michael Kovrig, a former Canadian diplomat, has been disappeared by the Chinese government, reports Reuters. The move is apparently in retaliation against Canada’s arrest of Huawei CFO Cathy a.k.a. Sabrina Mèng Wǎnzhōu 孟晚舟, which as we explained on SupChina Access yesterday (paywall), Beijing is furious about.

  • Kovrig is a highly respected China-watcher who has spent many years in China and has worked for an NGO, International Crisis Group, since 2017. His friends and employer have been unable to contact him.
  • A Canadian foreign ministry spokesman said in a written statement that it was “aware of the detention of a Canadian citizen in China,” and that the ministry had “raised this case directly with Chinese authorities,” according to the New York Times (porous paywall). Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed this.
  • “It appears it is retaliation with the intention of putting pressure on the Canadian government,” said a former Canadian ambassador to China, Howard Balloch, to the Times: “If so, it won’t work. The Canadian court system is not susceptible to pressure. It is truly independent.”
  • It’s not the first time Beijing has arrested a Canadian citizen in revenge or as a hostage. In 2014, a Canadian couple running a café in Dandong, Liaoning Province, were arrested. The husband spent two years in detention, before being charged and found guilty of espionage. He was then deported. The arrest seems to have been retaliation over the arrest of a Chinese man residing in Canada who was extradited to the U.S., where he pleaded guilty to stealing military secrets. See this Globe and Mail article for details.
  • “No evidence suggests this is Chinese government’s retaliation,” tweeted Hú Xījìn 胡锡进, editor of nationalistic rag Global Times. He added, “Public opinion made such speculation only because Canada has gone too far and people naturally think China will retaliate. The highly sensitive situation stemmed from Canada arresting Meng Wanzhou.”
  • Hu’s statement is as good as an admission that it was an act of retaliation. It brings to mind our word of the day today: 此地无银三百兩 cǐdì wú yín sānbǎi liǎng. It’s a proverb that literally means “no 300 taels of silver are buried here.” The origin is a story of a man who buried his life savings and then posted a notice saying there was no silver there. It’s used roughly in the same way as “the lady doth protest too much.”  

Meanwhile, in Vancouver, Meng’s bail hearing continues today. It will conclude shortly after we send this newsletter. For live updates, see the Twitter feed of journalist Michael Mui, who is in the courtroom.

Other relevant reports:

Jeremy Goldkorn

Jeremy Goldkorn worked in China for 20 years as an editor and entrepreneur. He is editor-in-chief of SupChina, and co-founder of the Sinica Podcast.

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