Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 6, June 2019
Anders Corr, Ph.D.
Publisher of the Journal of Political Risk
Canada is in an awkward dispute with China. On the one hand, it wants two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, released from detention, under conditions some would call torture. The lights are left on 24 hours a day, they cannot see loved ones, they undergo daily interrogations without legal counsel present, and they only get short visits from their consular officials once a month. On the other hand, Canada wants to comply with its extradition treaty with the U.S., which wants Meng Wanzhou for alleged lies to financial institutions in order to evade Iran sanctions. Perhaps more urgently, Canada wants to continue its lucrative trade with China. A solution is for other allied democracies, including in the U.S. and Europe, to use their substantial power to impose tariffs on China to help out their fellow democracy, Canada. Our neighbor to the north could do the same, in its own defense. Canadian tariffs against China, linked to demands for the release of Kovrig and Spavor, would likely get them freed overnight.
China is not too subtle about its demands. It wants Meng sent back safe and sound to China. Until then, apparently, the two Canadians will be detained and Canada will undergo increasing difficulty with its agricultural exports to China. All of Canada’s China problems will go away if it just signs on the line and releases her from home detention, according to China and its Canadian intermediaries.
The Kovrig-Spavor predicament is awkward for Canada because it is arguably a result of decades of democracies’ prioritization of trade over human rights issues. That includes Canada. Now that Canadian citizens have been targeted, Canada is wondering whether it is getting the same cold shoulder from its allies that it gave to human rights activists in the past.
The newly-found Canadian human rights concern for Kovrig and Spavor rings hollow after it largely ignored, for purposes of trade, the thousands killed by China at Tiananmen Square in 1989, and the 1-3 million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims detained in reeducation camps. By not taking a stronger stand on all of China’s human rights abuse, but instead focusing on just the two Canadians of the millions harmed by China, Canada undermines its own moral authority, and with it, any advocacy for the human rights of the two Canadians.