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Canada exposes China’s hostage diplomacy

The bitter recriminations have further plunged the ongoing acrimonious relations between Canada and China to new low. Limiting ties with China, Canada suspended the extradition treaty with Hong Kong. The Canadian decision prompted by the new security law Beijing imposed on Hong Kong in violation of the international treaty.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said “effective immediately, Canada will not permit the export of sensitive military items to Hong Kong” on Friday. Canada would also assume that all sensitive goods exported to Hong Kong meant to mainland China, he added further. The Canadian Foreign Minister termed the new law “a significant step back” for liberty.
The development infuriated China and rebuked Canada over the criticism of Hong Kong security law.
Whereas, Honk Kong officials expressed disappointment over Canada’s suspension of the extradition treaty.

Bilateral ties between Ottawa and Beijing have been very strenuous since 2018 when Canada arrested Meng Wanzhou, the Chief Financial Officer of Huawei, under the US warrant. After Meng detained, China arrested Canadian citizens Michael Kovri, a former diplomat, and Michael Spavor, a businessman, on charges of espionage.

It has been more than a year and a half since the Chinese government arbitrarily apprehended two Canadian citizens. Their arrests widely interpreted as retaliation for Canada detaining Huawei executive and the daughter of the company’s founder, on an extradition request from the United States. The US wants to try Meng on fraud charges relating to her alleged breaking of its sanctions on Iran. China is not allowing even consular access to these Canadians.

Chinese reprisal caused much anguish and frustration in Canada. Interesting, the two Canadians were chosen randomly to be pawns in a wider game, with Chinese seeking to reshape the world order to one where its desires and sensitivities can run riot in other countries decision-making. China wanted the rest of the world to know bad things would happen to any country that doesn’t toe its line – would invite arm-twisting in form of arbitrarily jailing of foreigners, straining of trading ties and fewer Chinese students for example. China is employing the same tactics against Australia lately because it has demanded an investigation of Chinese mishandling of coronavirus outbreak.

To realise this goal, indirect pressure was made on the Canadian government to settle the issue with China based on prisoner exchange. Calling out the Chinese ploy, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau flatly rejected the growing pressure on his government to arrange the release of Huawei executive in hopes of securing the release of two Canadians currently jailed in China.

“If the Chinese government concludes that detaining (citizens) is an effective way to gain leverage over Canadians and the Canadian government, to randomly arrest Canadians, then no Canadian will be safe,” Trudeau said. Any regime anywhere would be likelier to start arresting “random Canadians” to press diplomatic goals, he said. “To demonstrate to China that they can just arrest Canadians and they can get what they want out of Canada – even for us going against the independence of our judicial system – would be absolutely unacceptable,” Trudeau added.

The Prime Minister’s forceful refusal of prisoner exchange exposes the Chinese Communist Party’s style of “hostage diplomacy”. For China, the Huawei executive is a highly valued individual due to her position as a senior executive in a company with strong links to the party, securing her release is not an aim in itself.

It merely forms part of Beijing’s broader international objectives. The Trudeau government feels that submitting itself to the release of Meng would instead likely increase China’s antagonism towards Canada. It would also make Canadians in China less safe, and conditions less stable for Canadian businesses that export to China. With one norm successfully broken, Beijing would actively target Canada for the next.

Prime Minister Trudeau correctly insisted that it would not legitimise China’s hostage-taking and place more Canadians at risk. The Canadian government recognises the importance of preventing China’s belligerent behaviour from becoming normalised. By doing so, Canada has completely exposed the Chinese government’s game plan that hostage-taking is an acceptable diplomatic tool..