Global lens

The ‘Two Michaels’: pawns in Beijing’s brutal game

Canadian citizens are being used by Beijing to pressure Canada in the Huawei extradition case

It’s “hostage diplomacy” at its most blatant, said Brian Lilley in the Toronto Sun. Last week, Canadian businessman Michael Spavor was jailed for 11 years in the Chinese city of Dandong after being convicted on a “trumped-up charge” of espionage. He was arrested in China in December 2018, around the same time as another Canadian – former diplomat Michael Kovrig – whose case is still pending. And his sentencing took place a day after a third Canadian, Robert Schellenberg, lost his appeal against a death sentence for drug smuggling. All these men are being used by Beijing to pressurise Canada into releasing Meng Wanzhou, a Huawei executive (and daughter of the tech giant’s founder) who was arrested in Vancouver in 2018 on a US extradition warrant. In short, “China is willing to kill a Canadian and deny others their freedom to stop one of their own facing a proper court system”.

“It is hard not to feel a profound sense of injustice” about these cases, said Times Wang in The Globe and Mail (Toronto). Both of the “two Michaels”, as they are known in Canada, have spent nearly 1,000 days in the brutal conditions of a Chinese jail. As for Schellenberg, he had his original 15-year term increased to the death penalty in the wake of Meng’s arrest. None of the men had fair trials: Chinese courts work in secrecy, and take direction from the Communist Party. Meanwhile, Meng isn’t even in jail. She is still living in her “palatial mansion” in Vancouver under house arrest – and has all the benefits of a fair legal system in her fight to avoid extradition to the US. Some think Canada’s PM, Justin Trudeau, should end this by freeing Meng, said Lea Sahay in Süddeutsche Zeitung (Munich). After all, Canada has no beef with her: she is accused of charges relating to violations of US sanctions on Iran. And some legal experts argue that his government is entitled to release her. But he is rightly resisting: to cave in would show Beijing that all it needs to do to get leverage over Canada is, as he put it, arrest a few “random Canadians”.

This saga was triggered by Donald Trump’s policy of getting tough with China, said Richard Desjardins in the South China Morning Post (Hong Kong). The Biden administration could put an end to it, by dropping the US extradition request – but it’s not. With public anger about the fate of the “two Michaels” growing in Canada, Ottawa finds itself in a difficult position. Canada is a longstanding ally of the US, yet Washington is allowing it to be the “collateral damage” of its actions abroad. 

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