It is hard not to see this weekend’s developments as a victory for China and the creation of a world where Chinese nationals of value to the CCP will be able to act with impunity.
The return to Canada of Michael Spavor and Kovrig after more than 1,000 days of imprisonment in China has, quite understandably, been received with relief and rejoicing. That their release came in the form of a quid pro quo, that is, in return for a U.S. court dropping extradition charges against Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou (孟晚舟), however, leaves me perturbed. What the Chinese government has made indubitably clear with this move, after years of lecturing the West about how we should respect its “legal process,” is that the espionage charges against the two Canadians were bogus; there never was a moral, let alone a legal, equivalence. Rather, their arrest, as we suspected all along, was outright retaliation for Meng’s detention, hostage diplomacy of the kind that, as I argued in an article last year, is usually associated with terrorist organizations like the Lebanese Hezbollah, Peru’s Shining Path, or the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). In Beijing’s chauvinistic calculations, moreover, one Chinese citizen, Ms. Meng, was worth two Canadians.
Don’t get me wrong. At a human level, I am relieved to see the two Michaels return to Canada, two men who should never have had to experience what they went through in China’s nightmarish legal system, to become pawns in Beijing’s attempt to distort international law. But this development also has troubling undertones. Leaving aside the disgusting welcome reserved Ms. Meng upon her return to China yesterday, what with the red carpet reflecting the equally red dress she wore upon exiting the aircraft, the banners, songs and celebratory mood—in other words, a typical and altogether expected CCP exercise in propaganda—leaving aside all that, what bothers me is that we have now stepped into a world where Beijing not only knows it can get away with hostage diplomacy, but that it can secure what it wants via such acts of international piracy. From now on, every time a Chinese national of any value to the CCP gets into legal trouble somewhere, the CCP will know that retaliatory kidnapping has a conceivable chance of resulting in the release of that individual. Perhaps even more likely, states are now bound to ignore lawbreaking by Chinese nationals lest their arrest result in the kidnapping of one (or more) of their own on trumped-up charges. Thus, Chinese with CCP connections, critters like Ms. Meng, will be untouchable, immune to our laws, and unaccountable for their actions.
On a more personal note, this leads me to wonder what would have happened if the case of Patrick Ho (何志平) of the China Energy Fund Committee (中華能源基金委員會, CEFC), another miscreant who sued me in Taiwanese court a few years ago, had occurred after, and not before, the Meng incident. Would the man who engaged in high-level bribery and other violations at the United Nations have been arrested, and served time in federal prison for his crimes, have suffered a similar fate after the precedent set by the exchange of the two Michaels in return for Ms. Meng’s virtual absolution? After the hell that my family and I went through because of Mr. Ho, CEFC and the now-disappeared Ye Jianming (葉簡明), we at least could take some solace in the knowledge that the thug who had threatened us was spending time behind bars (a mere three years rather than the 21-year maximum sentence that his many crimes could have resulted in) for his actions. Today, I very much doubt that such justice would be possible.
It is hard for me, therefore, not to see this weekend’s developments as a victory for China.
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