A month or so ago Meng Wanzhou, CFO of Huawei, was arrested in Canada, pursuant to an extradition request Canada had received from the United States.    Who knows what merit there is to the charges the United States wants to lay against her.   Should she be extradited, the substantive merits of the case will be determined in open court, with multiple layers of potential appeal.   Who know too whether the Canadians will actually extradite her –  open Canadian courts will reach a view on that (including on whether the alleged offences are also offences in Canada) and the federal Minister of Justice apparently makes the final decision.  Presumably, the court process will be open, and the Minister will face both political and public scrutiny for any decision they are finally called on the make.  In the meantime, after a hearing in open court, Meng Wanzhou is now out on bail in Canada.  Presumably she is free to talk to consular officials from the People’s Republic whenever it is mutually convenient.

All that is more or less how the extradition process works among countries with the rule of law.  We have our own long-running case in New Zealand, in which the United States has for some years been seeking the extradition of Kim Dotcom.

But the People’s Republic of China declared itself “outraged” by the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, calling for her immediate release.  It was, presumably, something akin to lese-majeste to have arrested such a prominent figure, regardless of any possible merits to the charges.

Part of the PRC response was to arrest – abduct or kidnap seem more apt words –  two Canadians in China.

Two Canadian men have been detained in China on suspicion of “endangering national security,” China’s Foreign Ministry said Thursday.

Spokesperson Lu Kang confirmed that entrepreneur Michael Spavor and former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig were taken into custody on Monday and that they are being handled separately.

No one seriously supposes there is any actual criminal activity behind these arrests.   Reports over recent weeks suggest very limited consular access, there have been no court appearances, and reports also suggest these people are being held in facilities where lights are on 24 hours a day, repeated interrogations occur, and so on.  As one of the Canadian papers reported

Chinese authorities are able to keep suspects in secret locations for up to six months – without access to a lawyer – as they gather evidence under a system called “residential surveillance at a designated location.” Those who have experienced the ordeal have described intense interrogation sessions and, on occasion, beatings and torture as authorities seek confessions that can be used in court or for propaganda purposes.

There is no indication that Kovrig has been beaten, although sleep deprivation through incessant lighting is classified as a form of torture.

It is the sort of behaviour rogue states engage in, the sort of conduct one might expect all decent people to deplore.   Apart from anything else, if China gets away with this sort of conduct in the case of Kovrig and Spavor (and it is hardly the first time they’ve engaged in hostage-taking of Canadians),  anyone from a free and open country is at risk –  perhaps especially people from second or third tier countries, such as Australia and New Zealand –  whether around future extradition cases or other points of tension involving the PRC.

Canada has called for the immediate release of these two Canadian citizens.  The Canadian government’s approach was backed by separate statements from the European Union, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and France.    For a time there was complete silence from the Australian government.   That prompted an open letter last week to Australia’s Foreign Minister from dozens of China-watchers and analysts in Australia –  including many with a long track record favouring engagement with the PRC.  This was their call

Since December 21, the European UnionUnited StatesUnited KingdomGermany and France have each issued statements of concern regarding the apparently political motivation for the arrests of these Canadian citizens, which raise serious concerns about legitimate research and business practices in China. It is time for Australia to do the same. 

In view of the risks this raises to Australian research and business activities that form the bedrock of positive Australia-China relations, we respectfully ask you to join the above-mentioned governments in supporting the Canadian government’s call for the immediate release of these two detainees.

The open letter seems to have been the prompt for the Australian government to finally make a comment, supported by the opposition the federal Labor party.   Senator Payne’s statement does not go as far as the signatories to the open letter sought, and in particular does not call for the immediate release of Kovrig and Spavor, but at least it was an official and public expression of concern.

Of the Five Eyes countries, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia have all come out in public in support of Kovrig and Spavor, and in support of the Canadian government.    And what of New Zealand?

From our government –  and in fact from any elected political officeholder – nothing.   Just silence.  Her Excellency the Ambassador of the PRC to New Zealand, Wu Xi, must be delighted at such quiescence.   One can only imagine what our traditional friends and allies –  countries that share our commitment to the rule of law –  must make of this public utter indifference by the New Zealand government to the situation Canada, and its abducted citizens, face.  It isn’t even as if these were citizens of Trump’s America –  Justin Trudeau’s government has seemed on many of the same wavelengths as our own government.  And yet still the Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs won’t utter even a word, pushing back against lawlessness by the PRC in mistreating citizens of a country we have longstanding close ties with.   It might be the summer holidays –  but then it is in Australia too –  but various ministers, including our Foreign Minister, managed other new public statements last week.    Staying silent is clearly a conscious choice –  a choice to be indifferent to evil, even when it happens to our friends.

Who knows, but perhaps our government has in fact raised the matter quietly with Beijing.  That is the standard line of successive New Zealand governments about every abuse.  But there is never any sign that these alleged representations make any difference, and public statements do matter –  if only to New Zealanders, in giving us a sense of in whose interests, and according to what values, our officeholders are actually governing.  This episode is yet another indication –  we’ve already seen it in their embarrassed indifference to Anne-Marie Brady – that when it comes to China the current government, like its predecessors, governs in the commercial interests of a few universities and big businesses, and of its own party fundraising, rather than for the values of New Zealanders.

But even so, you have to wonder what goes through their minds when Jacinda Ardern and Winston Peters decide to stay quiet, when our traditional allies speak out.   Does it not for a moment cross their mind that one day New Zealand might find itself in Canada’s position, and to wonder who –  if anyone –  might go into bat for us, and for our citizens if they were to be abducted by the regime in Beijing?

So the Ardern/Peters stance –  the awkward silence, as innocent Canadians are abducted and our friends speak up – seems both shameful and dishonourable, and yet imprudent too.  It serves no decent longer-term interest, but perhaps it suggests the Prime Minister is more desperate for that invite to Beijing –  to what end? –  than has previously been evident.

Jacinda Ardern and Winston Peters head the New Zealand roll of shame on this issue, since they are the most senior figures in the current government.   But the shame isn’t just theirs.  There is no sign of anything from Simon Bridges, Paula Bennett (perhaps both rather keen on those donations Yikun Zhang was arranging?), or Todd (“vocational training centres in Xinjiang) McClay.   Nothing from the Green Party or ACT leaders.   Nothing from the Minister of Justice (rule of law and all that). And of course nothing from our PRC-born and educated MPs.  In a decent society, they’d be at the forefront of condemning the abuses in the land of their birth.  In our society, it seems to be just fine that they keep very very quiet –  a silence that suits Beijing –  and help ensure that the donations keep flowing.  Perhaps a journalist might consider asking Raymond Huo his opinion on the abduction of the Canadians.  He was, after all, formerly a lawyer with a leading local law firm, and now he chairs the Justice select committee in Parliament.  You’d hope the rule of law meant a lot to him.  But, like his bosses, deferrring to Beijing, and never ever upsetting the murderous rogue state, appears to matter more than the rule of law, or standing by our friends and allies when they (almost inadvertently in Canada’s case) incur the wrath of a tyrant.

By their utter silence, on this as on so many other PRC issues, our MPs and ministers dishonour this country and its people.   Cowering in a corner, deferring to Beijing, is simply unbecoming people who purport to lead a free and independent country.


31 thoughts on “Cowering?

  1. Thank you for your article. In the Herald today I was surprised to discover NZ still ranked as “A+ from Transparency International for lack of corruption”. When I read that I thought of the 45 out of 47 subcontractor firms involved in our nationwide fibre broadband project who were found to be breaking NZ employment laws. There is plenty of corruption in NZ but we look the other way. The leaders of our political parties will not think they are being corrupt; they will be thinking they are merely being cautious but outsiders will see it as it is: outsiders money influencing our actions.
    Can someone ask Ms Ardern how her guiding concept ‘Kindness’ applies? Are we being kind to the Chinese communist party or wouldn’t our voice in support of Kovrig and Spavor be kind to them?
    I will be surprised if Golriz Ghahraman makes no comment. My politics are widely different to hers but she has been consistent in support for the the spirit and the rule of law.


  2. I wonder what the response will be when the PRC are at the gate (militarisation in the SW Pacific)?
    Too late to whimper.
    The belt and road in the SW Pacific is simply a Trojan horse in my view.
    As an example, already the Pakistan B and R project is being diversified into weapons manufacture there.
    It is very likely Mombasa port is about to be handed over by Kenya to the PRC (like Hambantota).
    See :

    Re: Assets in Africa

    Present and previous government have curled up in a ball and pretended this makes NZ a small target in a much larger strategic game. That may have worked to date but I strongly doubt this can stand in the near future. Huawei ban was a good start, so brownie points due.

    I hope NZ does come up with SW Pacific development projects that are sustainable, beneficial and can change and improve peoples lives. That would be a $billion well spent.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I think this is what is meant by New Zealand’s “independent foreign policy”: turning our back on our friends and ingratiating ourselves with despots. Ardern and Peters are just following the script. Happy New Year Michael.

    Liked by 3 people

    • It is little to do with old or new friends. It is about the rule of law where everyone believes they will be treated fairly. Using the legal system to take hostages is wrong. Our prime minister could point out to President Xi that his image as a statesman and world leader is badly damaged when his country behaves like Gaddafi’s Libya when it imprisoned five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor on trumped up charges.

      Liked by 1 person

      • CCP spokespeople often talk of China being a country governed by the “rule of law”, and in the West the expression probably conjures up thoughts about an independent judiciary. However, in China the judiciary system is an arm of the CCP, which I would think makes it highly susceptible to corruption/bribery and injustice (such as wrongful imprisonment with limited appeal process). If expedient, the CCP will break its own laws to arrest and imprison people (e.g. recall the Hong Kong bookseller abduction case).

        Liked by 3 people

  4. Compulsory Expansion

    On Wednesday Night the BBC broadcast a 1 hour news segment on the first speech of 2019 by Xi Jinping – stating Taiwan ‘must and will be’ reunited with China – by force if necessary

    This was a direct shot at Trump and the USA and the Taiwan-USA defence treaty

    The NY Times had a brief mention but was well buried.
    NZ media did not touch it at all

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think that is more a measure of the actual economic outlook that the CCP has. Distracting the population with a war (real or just hype) is probably looking like a good option in comparison to an actual recession.


  5. Population of Taiwan 23 million

    That’s a lot of re-education and re-programming and building of detention centres


    • Population of XinJiang is also around 23 million.

      Therefore the hardcore dissidents that need re-education and re-programming and building of detention centres would be around 1 million.


  6. USA is out to get huaweii
    Non us citizen
    Not in USA
    Tells purported lie
    Chinese see it as purely political attack
    Take a look at the actual law they are applying


    • So you agree that it is okay to grab a couple of people not involved and lock them up for a while all because you see it as a political attack?

      I presume you would have no problem with the NZ government locking up a few high profile Chinese when the PRC threatens our trade. Or are you one of those that believes in one way behaviour.

      Liked by 1 person

      • No of course, China’s action is illegal. What I am saying is that the U.S. action is illegal. They are making laws for non U.S. citizens and about things that didn’t happen in the U.S. This is definitely a political attack in the U.S. on Huaweii and Iran. There is no legal basis for it and we shouldn’t support it.


      • The US actions is usually covered legally by a separate treaty such as a Extradition Treaty between the US and Canada. Under the terms of the extradition treaty, the US could request Meng’s arrest in Canada if she was wanted in connection with conduct considered criminal in both Canada and the United States, and if the offence carries a jail sentence of a year or more. Once that threshold is met, the treaty compels Canada to act.

        The recent Money Laundering and Anti-terrorist legislations introduced around the world brings into line the common criminality of such activities.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Michael,
    Your account of the judicial system in the US paints an extremely rosy picture of transparency and citizens rights. I doubt the inmates of Guantanamo would concur with your assessment. And torture (or waterboarding – which seems more serious than leaving the lights on) had been openly approved by leaders of the Bush administration and I doubt Trump would prevail from its use if given cause. So before we castigate the Chinese for not behaving in a “civilised manner” with respect to human rights, lets not forget that the US has long since abandoned the moral high ground it expects of others.


    • Two wrongs do not make a right. NZ should be supporting other countries who complain about Guantanamo as well as Kovrig and Spavor.

      But this issue is between Canada and China and relevence for our government is the big country bullying the economically smaller. Ms Meng Wanzhou is on bail so why not Kovrig and Spavor?

      Liked by 1 person

    • The basics of the US justice system are more open than our own (eg few if any suppression orders).

      I’m not defending Guantanamo but two points are worth noting: a) it isn’t a criminal system, but rather one about enemy combatants taken in the unusual situation of non-state conflicts, and (b) the US Supreme Court system acted as a considerable (eventual) check on the abuses there, as did an open political system.

      More generally, whatever the failings of the US (or NZ) in the last century of so, those failings pale in comparison with the systematic abuses perpetrated by the CCP regime in China. Sure, the line between good and evil runs thru the heart of every person, but as a system the PRC is much closer to systematic evil than any western regime since the Nazi era in Germany or the Soviet Union. We give space for gross evil to flourish when we refuse to say or do anything about gross abuses – these were entirely innocent civilians – because no one else is perfect.

      On the legal processes around Meng Wanzhou, this podcast from Sinica – not typically strongly antagonistic to Beijing – is worthwhile.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Weak and rambling podcast you refer to. He brushes off the the political context. I don’t know. I can see what you are saying…He never addresses it. He could at least say – yes this is political. The Chinese and everyone else know that Trump hawks are behind the legal action. Its Huaweii and Iran. You first must agree that this is a deliberate political provocation.

        Next address the legal basis. Non US Citizen gives a Powerpoint with lies to non US bank (HSBC), not in the U.S. Explain how this is a U.S. crime. Not only is it a political arrest, it is not morally legal. Iran is a problem for U.S. oil and the U.S. dollar

        It is total B.S. to say Jacinda should be standing up for the U.S. on this. Easy for a keyboard warrior like you and I. Different if you are a leader that fronts the cameras.


    • The headine says it all “”The lack of global outcry over the detention of two Canadians virtually guarantees the next such case””. Next case just might be a NZ businessman or official who reveals a contamination of milk that embarasses the Chinese Govt.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I thought the Chinese government was rather restraint in not imprisoning Fonterra executives who were a substantial shareholder of a fraudulent chinese company that made plastic milk. Usually there would be a due diligence process that would have triggered a duty of care when dozens of children die as result of fraudulent activity by a subsidiary company which a major shareholder would have some form of control over its subsidiary.


  8. You only require knowledge of our PM’s background & statements made even before she was an MP, to understand her beliefs & value system. She is a hard left socialist who will do or not not do anything she thinks she can get away with to further her personal goals & ambitions. Criticising human rights abuses is not a winner for her personal goals which may require Chinese support so she is happy to stay quiet. Winstone is a slightly different story – ever the opportunist he won’t do or say anything unless there is something in it for him in his swansong years.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t know her. You do not make it clear as to whether her personal goals & ambitions are more important than her hard left socialism. My reading of her personality is well meaning but that lack of connection to real life you find in anyone who makes their life 100% politics from before they became an adult. Having a child may well be the making of her. I expect her actions and inactions are influenced by those who surround her. Someone is telling her to be cautious and avoid risking the ire of the Chinese; she can upset Trump, Merkyl, May, Macron etc because they and their parties won’t be around for long but do not upset President Xi.

      Which is bad advice. It is not difficult for Jacinda to delegate statements to subordinates. She can draw attention to the similarity between English common law circuit judges and the mandarins assigned by the Emperor to administer Chinese provinces. In both cases a deliberately chosen outsider applied the law fairly to locals and non-locals. It wasn’t the English king prefering foreign traders over his own countrymen but his realisation that without rule of law foreign traders would stop coming to England to buy wool and sell useful spices.

      You have a good point, why do Jacinda and Winston bother with politics if they are not going to stand up for their beliefs? The only rational explanation is fear.

      Liked by 2 people

      • John Key got a full military parade with a red carpet visit. Jacinda Ardern is struggling to even get an official state visit into China. One is a friend and ally held in high regard. The other is just a worshipper and kowtows to the whim of China. The action outcomes might be similar in that both may stay silent but John Key has much more access to President Xi.


    • Ok but this completely underlines the point that this is a purely political arrest. Thanks for the post though. They then go on to justify the Saudi murder of a journalist and the U.S. brushing it under the carpet. So hey Saudis killing people is fine by Huaweii violating sanctions in Iran, that is a crime.

      Michael your logic is looking stuffed here and this commentator (roger) is an example of how far off your analysis is.


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