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September 9, 2020

Fruitless negotiations with China

Reuel S. Amdur

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Canada continues to spin its wheels in efforts to get Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor released from Chinese confinement. And what is missing is any recognition of the other two Canadians in custody, Sun Qian and Huseyin Celil. Sun has been sentenced to eight years for her participation in Falun Gong and Celil has spent 14 years in custody because he is a Uyghur human rights defender.

There are three approaches to the problem being proposed by Canadian politicians and advocates, all wrong.  François-Philippe Champagne, our Minister of Foreign Affairs, pleads with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi for the release of the two Michaels, ignoring the other two Canadian hostages and the four drug offenders under sentence of death.  China will simply not budge from their demand for release of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, held by Canada on an extradition request from the United States on a fraud charge.

Another approach is to deal with China to release Meng in exchange for the two Michaels.  This approach fails to take full advantage of the situation to clear the slate for all the eight Canadians in custody.  It would be a half measure.

The third approach that will fail is to engage in a variety of pressure tactics aimed at China, for example use of the Magnitsky Act to sanction various Chinese officials.  While such actions may make us feel good, they will have absolutely no impact on Chinese behavior in the matter.  China has been very clear that she is prepared to suffer in efforts to get Meng back. China needs our canola, yet they cancelled the deal for canola with a cock-and-bull story about contaminated grain.

We need to see the current crisis as an opportunity, not a problem.  Return Meng to China in exchange for release of the four hostages and reduction of the death sentences. Otherwise, the consequences for the Canadians will be very harsh.  Meng will continue to fight extradition, perhaps for years, in court.  During this time, the Canadians will continue to suffer harsh imprisonment.  Then, if she is finally handed over to the United States, we will no longer be able to make a deal to exchange Meng for our citizens.  Then all hope will be lost.  Celil has already been held for 14 years.  That may be the kind of future for the two Michaels.  As for the drug offenders, they will likely be executed.

Sun has a sentence of eight years hanging over her head, and she is already faring poorly under the treatment to which she is being subjected.  China reports that she has agreed to abandon her Canadian citizenship.  What kind of pressure was she put under to make her agree to that?

The tough line on China is bound to fail in getting relief for our fellow Canadians.  Only after our hostages are returned and the drug offenders no longer facing death does it make sense to institute tough measures.  Yes to the Magnitsky Act for the behavior of Chinese officials in the genocidal behavior toward the Uyghurs.  Yes to graphic warnings to Canadians planning to travel to China.  Yes to various economic measures.  But first things first.

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