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The danger of China's "hostage diplomacy"

The release of two Canadians, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, after more than 1,000 days in Chinese detention was widely viewed as a case of “hostage diplomacy.” Although Chinese officials deny link between Canada’s arrest of Meng Wanzhou and the sudden detainment of Kovrig and Spavor, both men were arrested in 2018 on espionage charges only days after Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, and within hours of Meng walking free from a Vancouver courtroom, China suddenly lost all interest in the battery of espionage charges faced by the two Michaels and put them on a jet for Calgary.

Both the scholarly and journalistic communities were surprised by how closely their releases were timed. Donald C. Clarke, a specialist in Chinese law at George Washington University, said while he thinks it was clear from the outset that the detention of the pair was connected to Meng's case.

Apart from the two Michaels, there are several foreign citizens detained by the Chinese authorities because their countries engaged in a diplomatic spat with China. For example, Cheng Lei, an Australian journalist at CGTN, was arrested in August 2020, and was accused of leaking state secrets. Her arrest coincided with a diplomatic spat between China and Australia. Richard O'Halloran, a businessman from Dublin who flew to China in February 2019 to resolve a dispute between his employer and Chinese authorities. He was arrested without any charges and has remained in prison ever since. The government of Ireland then issued a warning for its citizens that they could face detention in China if they have a business dispute with the Chinese.

Justice has been eroding by the Chinese government's "hostage diplomacy." | Photo from Unsplash

Whether coincident or intentious, the cases signal the victory of China’s “hostage diplomacy” and set a dangerous precedent for future practice, that is, China can arbitrary detain anyone in exchange for unlawfully diplomatic interests.

As the suppression of freedom by the Chinese government has been extended from Chinese people to foreign citizens, I strongly condemn the use of hostage diplomacy and call on the Western leaders, free media, and other influential voices in the international world to figure out effective ways to stop the malicious behaviors of the Chinese government.


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