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 Union, United States, United Kingdom, Germany 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.