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Saturday, October 16, 2021

Explained: Why China released Canadian detainees soon after Huawei CFO was let go

China has been often accused of “hostage diplomacy” — the act of detaining people for diplomatic reasons.

Written by Sanskriti Falor , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: September 28, 2021 7:29:31 am
Michael Kovrig embraces his wife Vina Nadjibulla, left, after arriving at Pearson International Airport in Toronto (AP)

China on Friday announced the release of two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, a few hours after Canada announced the release of Huawei Technologies Chief Finance Officer, Meng Wanzhou, who was detained in December 2018. Wanzhou flew to China Saturday evening, while Kovrig and Spavor reached Canada on Saturday.

US Secretary Of State Antony J. Blinken, in a statement, said, “The US Government stands with the international community in welcoming the decision by People’s Republic of China authorities to release Canadian citizens Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig after more than two-and-a-half years of arbitrary detention. We are pleased that they are returning home to Canada.”

Who is Meng Wanzhou?

Meng Wanzhou, 49-year-old Chief Financial Officer of Huawei Technologies, was arrested on December 1, 2018, at the Vancouver International Airport by the Canadian authorities on instruction from the United States. Wanzhou, daughter of the founder of Huawei Technologies, a Chinese tech company, had joined Huawei in 1993. She had been fighting extradition to the US, since her arrest in 2018.

Wanzhou was accused of bank and wire fraud charges for allegedly misleading HSBC bank in 2013 about Huawei’s business dealings in Iran, according to Reuters. Huawei allegedly defrauded financial institutions to clear transactions and provide financial assistance to Huawei’s Iran-based sister company Skycom — which was against US sanctions imposed on Iran.

Wanzhou was arrested soon after US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping signed a 90-day truce trade deal. As per the allegations by the US authorities, Wanzhou had helped Huawei profit from evading sanctions imposed by the US on Iran. The Trump administration had also accused Huawei of stealing data and technologies from western companies.

Wanzhou entered a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) and was “arraigned on charges of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, bank fraud and wire fraud”, according to a statement released by the United Nations Department of Justice. On entering into a DPA, Wanzhou took the responsibility of playing a prominent role in a scheme to defraud HSBC Bank.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau embraces Michael Kovrig after Kovrig and Michael Spavor, (not photographed) in Calgary. (AP)

Why were Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor detained by China?

Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were arrested nine days after Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou’s arrest. While, many have related the arrests with Wanzhou’s arrest, the Chinese government has repeatedly denied the accusations.

The Chinese government accused the two detainees — known as the two Michaels — of National Security crimes.

Michael Kovrig was a former Canadian diplomat to Beijing. He began working as North East Asia Adviser to a non-government organisation, International Crisis Group. The organisation works towards diffusing international conflicts. As per the International Crisis Group website, “Michael conducts research and provided analysis on foreign affairs and global security issues in North East Asia, particularly on China, Japan and the Korean peninsula.”

The Chinese government had stated that Kovrig’s arrest was also related to an administrative matter related to the registration of the Crisis Group, as per New York Times.

Michael Spavor, an entrepreneur, ran a cultural organisation that promoted trips to North Korea. Spavor was known to travel to North Korea often and was accused of national security crimes, just like Kovrig.

Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei (AP)

The Chinese government has maintained opacity on the arrest of the two Canadians.

Last month, Spavor was sentenced to jail for 11 years by a Chinese court for spying.

Why did China detain Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor?

Although the Chinese government has denied the charges of arresting the two Michaels in retaliation of Wanzhou’s arrest, hours after Canada announced Wanzhou’s release, the Chinese government confirmed releasing the two detainees.

China has not provided any reason for the release of the two Canadians.

However, China has been often accused of “hostage diplomacy” — the act of detaining people for diplomatic reasons. According to a study published by Yale Law School, hostage diplomacy is when focusing on individuals is “the only way to achieve legislative or diplomatic progress”.

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