Meng for the two Michaels: lessons for the world from the prisoner exchange between China and Canada

David Webster, Bishop’s University

Like canada celebrate the return of the “Two Michaels” it’s worth asking what is this hostage diplomacy saga He talks to us about Canada-China relations and global affairs more broadly.

Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor flew out shortly after Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, detained in Vancouver, reached a deferred prosecution agreement with the United States government.

Both China and Canada can claim to have achieved their goals: The two Michaels flew back to Canada to be greeted by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau while Meng Wanzhou had a triumphant return to China.

But China has emerged as the big winner after quietly pointing out his willingness to exchange prisoners for some time. Beijing retaliated for Meng’s arrest in 2018 by detaining Kovrig and Spavor in short order. When Meng was released, so was the Canadian duo, surprising experts. It was tit for tat, Meng for the Michaels.

Many experts expected China to wait a few months to uphold the claim that the two Canadians had been arrested for actual crimes.

Instead, the swiftness of Chinese action signaled a more important message to the world from the ruling Chinese Communist Party: Don’t mess with us.

China seeks the same global privileges that the United States currently has and takes for granted. When it comes to “Rules-based international order” So beloved by Canada and like-minded states, the United States government is both a proponent and a regular abstainer.

In other words, the US follows the rules when it is in the US national interest to do so. Break those rules when you want.

Playing by the rules when it’s convenient

The Chinese government wants the same privilege. After your “peaceful climb“For world power, he wants to be feared, respected and possess the same ability to bend and change the rules. Canadian lawmakers would do well to understand that China seeks equality and respect, and to learn from history to forge a more effective Chinese strategy.

Getting along with Americans it has been central to Canadian foreign policy for more than a century. It is time to learn to apply the lessons learned to effectively manage the relationship with what is now the world’s other superpower.

A look back reveals that tit-for-tat hostage diplomacy didn’t start with Meng’s arrest.

In 1967, the British authorities repressed about protesters in Hong Kong. They banned three pro-communist newspapers in China and jailed some of their workers, including Chinese citizens.

The Chinese authorities immediately retaliated by targeting the only British journalist in China. Reuters correspondent Anthony Gray passed 777 days under house arrest. After Chinese newspaper workers completed a two-year jail term, Gray was also quickly released.

Norm Webster in a dark suit
Norman Webster, the author’s father, presents the Norman Webster Award for International Reporting at the National Newspaper Awards in Toronto in 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS / Galit Rodan

Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai even said The balloon and the mail correspondent in Chinamy father, by the way) that Gray would be welcome to resume his duties at Reuters. Zhou openly joked about his ability to imprison or release the reporter at will.

Hostage diplomacy, in other words, is nothing new.

Establishment of diplomatic ties

Canadian efforts since then have aimed to bring China to a “rules-based international order.” The Pierre Trudeau government defied American wishes when established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China in 1971.

Canadian aid had largely been directed at remaking China, similar to the efforts of Canadian missionaries who tried to change China in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Since the 1970s, Canada’s policy with China has oscillated between a missionary drive to transform the country and a business drive to make money. They were both about “commitment, ”Trying to get China to follow international standards.

But in 1997, Canadian took a turn when the government of Jean Chrétien stopped supporting a United Nations resolution on human rights in China in favor of “bilateral human rights dialogues” with the Chinese.

Chretien inspects the honor guard in Beijing.
Prime Minister Jean Chretien inspects the honor guard during welcoming ceremonies at the Great Hall of the People in 2003 in Beijing. (THE CANADIAN PRESS / Paul Chiasson)

As China expert Charles Burton has argued, those closed-door conversations were completely ineffective in promoting human rights. However, they were very effective in bypass human rights groups.

Read more: Canada-China Trade Agreement: Is Ottawa Selling Our Democratic Values?

Canada refused to pressure China on human rights in part because it was competing with other countries for what had become its top priority for China: trade. Canada began to do huge trade missions to China, happy to grab the leftovers thrown at him by a greater power.

Implicit impunity

Is it any wonder that in 2018 Chinese officials felt they could arrest Canadians with impunity and hold them without retaliation? Decades of Canadian politics had shown them that they had little to fear.

China arrested Canadian citizen Huseyin Celil in 2006 and easily brushed off Canadian “silent diplomacy.” The Canadian ambassador cared so little about the case that he even I forgot that Celil was Canadian.

Read more: The forgotten Canadian languishing in a Chinese jail

Canadian diplomats clearly came up with a clever solution to the two Michaels’ dilemma, but it was hardly an integrated approach given the two-way exchange. has continued at a good pace.

Today, there are already calls in Canada for a go back to business “as usual” (literally) with China.

But there are also demands for a lot tougher stance against China, and calls for Canada to be allowed in the new AUKUS security pact between the US, the UK and Australia aimed at controlling the Chinese in the Indo-Pacific region.

Read more: Canada’s Exclusion from AUKUS Security Pact Reveals Failed National Defense Policy

But what is really needed is history-informed politics and an understanding of China that is as shrewd as Canada’s understanding of its southern neighbor.

History is important to Chinese politicians. Historical analogies often reflect Chinese intentions. After the Chinese Revolution, China sought to seek a return to respect and center of the global economy.

It has emerged in a solid position after the “century of humiliationThat allowed the Western powers to dictate it.

What can Canada do?

Canada may consider restoring the position of an embassy “Sinologist”(China Expert) in Beijing. Universities could do more to teach future leaders about China’s history. The media could report on China in greater depth, as they do on American affairs.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman looks up at Justin Trudeau
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman looks up at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the G20 Summit in Argentina in 2018. CANADIAN PRESS / Sean Kilpatrick

At the same time, Canadian policy makers must stop saying one thing and do the opposite. Chinese officials also study Canada. Successive Canadian prime ministers and other leaders have shown the world that they will shout out human rights to national audiences as they ask China for more trade. They will talk and tweet about feminist foreign policies while sending weapons systems to Saudi Arabia.

Read more: Canada’s checkered history of gun sales to human rights violators

Instead of behaving like a “Paper tiger, “Canada needs to embark on a coherent rights-based policy, integrated into all aspects of foreign and trade policy, as well as domestic policy. After all, both Canada and China have a lousy human rights record on indigenous peoples, whether they are Cree or Uyghur, Tibetan or Atikamekw. and they have committed historical and ongoing genocide against them.

It is time for Canada to consistently combine rhetoric with action. Perhaps the celebrations for the return of the two Michaels will lead to new policies that would prevent a repeat.

David Webster, Associate Professor of History / Associate Professor, Department of History, Bishop’s University

This article is republished from The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the Original article.

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