‘We’ve got to be much stronger in our defence of our values,’ says the former British diplomat behind #FreeChinaHostages. Thursday, Dec. 10 marks the two-year anniversary of the detention of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in China.
The campaign is a way for ordinary people to express their “disquiet and disgust” with Beijing’s resort to the practice of hostage diplomacy. Parton says his hope is that embassies will be inundated, and even if the Christmas cards are not sent along to Kovrig and Spavor, diplomatic staff will be assigned to open each letter “and, if they have a conscience, the more shame they will feel.”
In Canada, Parton’s #FreeChinaHostages campaign has been taken up by Guy Saint-Jacques, a former Canadian ambassador in China, Margaret McCuaig-Johnston, a senior fellow with the University of Ottawa’s Institute for Science, Society and Policy, and Brock University’s Charles Burton, senior fellow with the Macdonald-Laurier Institute and the European Values Center for Security Policy.
Parton spent more than two decades in Britain’s diplomatic service in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong before moving on to the top-tier British think-tank, the Royal United Services Institute. It was in his final posting, seconded to the European Union delegation in Beijing, that Parton struck up a friendship with Kovrig, who was working at the Canadian Embassy at the time. “He was one of the guys who was actually worth speaking to,” Parton says of Kovrig. “He speaks Chinese, he likes the country, he knows the politics well, and he’s a fun guy. Who wouldn’t want to know Michael?”
It is high time for the citizens of the world’s liberal democracies to start standing up for democratic values, demanding that their governments do the same, Parton told me. “We’ve got to be much stronger in our defence of our values, and to ensure that politicians will resist the lure of money from supporters who are making a quick buck in China. We have to think about the long-term health of our politics and our societies.”
Statesmanship and leadership are certainly not seen around much these days in Ottawa, where Beijing has invested an extraordinary effort over the years in cultivating and nourishing its circle of friends, especially in the old guard of the Liberal Party.
By the time Kovrig and Spavor were abducted on Dec. 10, 2018, the Chinese Communist Party had grown accustomed to getting its way in Canada, and after Justin Trudeau’s election victory in 2015, Chinese diplomats were crowing about the coming “golden decade” in Canada-China relations. Peter Harder, the former head of the Canada-China Business Council, had been appointed to lead Trudeau’s transition team, and was later gifted a plum Senate appointment. Trudeau was trumpeting his hopes for a free-trade deal with China. Not unreasonably, Beijing expected Trudeau’s government to do as it was told in the matter of the U.S. Department of Justice versus Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou.
Those instructions were forcefully relayed to the Prime Minister’s Office by Jean Chrétien, the former prime minister, John Manley, Chrétien’s former deputy prime minister, and Chrétien-era cabinet minister John McCallum, who had been appointed ambassador to China by the time Meng was arrested and the two Michaels were abducted.
At the time, however, Canada’s justice minister was Jody Wilson-Raybould, a novice politician unaccustomed to postures of deference when it came to the legal difficulties encountered by influential Canadian corporations; her refusal to cut a deal with SNC-Lavalin on charges involving corruption and bribery in Libya would end up costing Wilson-Raybould her job. The effusively Beijing-friendly Stéphane Dion had been replaced by the scrappy outsider Chrystia Freeland, who was renegotiating NAFTA and couldn’t afford to slap American faces by handling Meng’s case in any way that substantially differed from the way cases are ordinarily handled under the 1971 Canada-U.S. extradition treaty. And certainly not to just placate Xi’s petulance.
McCallum bristled and bucked, so he had to be fired. Chrétien and Manley had to be told to shut up and go away. And ever since, to keep Meng from being sent to face a raft of charges against her in an American courtroom, Meng’s lawyers have persisted with increasingly desperate manoeuvres in B.C. Supreme Court. It’s no wonder her lawyers are trying to persuade her to accept a plea deal U.S. Justice Department prosecutors have put on the table.
Meng is wanted by the U.S Justice Department’s Eastern District of New York on 13 counts that include bank fraud, wire fraud and several conspiracy counts, including conspiracy to launder money, violate U.S. sanctions on Iran and defraud the United States and obstruct justice. Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., one of Xi Jinping’s “national champion” conglomerates – it’s deeply implicated in China’s dystopian domestic surveillance system, and in intellectual property theft around the world – is facing exactly the same charges. The FBI had been watching Meng since 2013 as part of a broader investigation into Huawei’s shady dealings going back at least as far as 2006.
You can send it to her care of the Chinese Consulate in Vancouver: 3380 Granville St., Vancouver, B.C. V6H 3K3.
Terry Glavin is an author and journalist.