In a move that experts say is egregious but not surprising, a well-known Chinese state-controlled media outlet says the country did not use hostage diplomacy to secure the return of Huawei’s CFO Meng Wanzhou on Friday. .

TO Sunday report From the Global Times claims, recently released Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor confessed and repented of acts of espionage “in their own words”, were released on bail “for medical reasons” and were only casually released in concert. with Meng.

The report, citing an anonymous source “close to the matter,” stated that the Michaels must now “strictly abide” by bail conditions imposed on them, which, if violated, would lead China to resume criminal proceedings.

“The strange thing about this is that his conditions for release exactly match Meng’s, almost word for word,” said Stephanie Carvin, associate professor of international relations at Carlton University.

As part of the plea deal that led to his release, Meng had to admit wrongdoing, confirming that the United States’ case against him was factual, and that saying or insinuating otherwise would result in his prosecution.

The Global Times insisted that the Michaels’ arrests were legitimate and unrelated to those of Meng, who was herself a “political hostage” according to “accumulated evidence.”

“It is blatantly obvious that Beijing did not anticipate the extent to which the entire international community would recognize this as a hostage exchange or just feel very comfortable issuing very tenuous denials,” Carvin said. “It feels like international gaslighting.”

Clive Ansley, a former China-based lawyer, now BC-based legal consultant on Chinese law, said the report is a good example of how the Chinese government has “created a state that is fundamentally based on a system of lies. institutionalized”.

“It was apparent to everyone from the beginning that his arrests were not a coincidence, that it was strictly tit-for-tat retaliation and clearly hostage diplomacy,” Ansley said. “Now, at the other extreme, Meng’s release from his Vancouver detention was immediately followed by the release of the two Michaels; to claim that the two are not related is an insult.”

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Experts told the Star that they are unsure of the veracity of the claims that Michaels signed affidavits of criminal offenses. It may well have happened, they said, but probably under duress.

“I have no doubt that if they confessed something, it was the result of coercion,” Ansley said. “People who have spent time in Chinese prisons will argue strongly that being incarcerated in China is itself a form of torture.”

While Meng spent the past three years under house arrest in Vancouver, first in a six-bedroom, $ 5 million home, then a $ 14 million residence more than three times as large, the Michaels were kept in three-by-three-meter cells. in Size.

Kovrig described their living conditions as “Hell.” The lights were kept on 24 hours a day and their diet was sometimes limited to rice and boiled vegetables.

The Global Times article writes that the Michaels were arrested “in accordance with the law” and their “legal right to defense and other litigation rights are fully protected.” University of Ottawa law professor Errol Mendes is quick to point out that the legal system in China cannot claim to operate fairly.

“The only thing I learned from my 15-year research partnership with Peking University is that there is no independent judiciary in China,” Mendes said. “The judges of most of the Chinese courts are subordinate to the local committees of the Communist Party, which basically tell them how to decide cases. By China’s own admission, the conviction rate for anyone charged with a crime is 99 percent. That tells you that anything that comes out of the criminal courts in China is a fabrication. “

Unlike Kovrig, who had not yet been sentenced, Spavor received 11 years in prison for espionage in August. He is said to have taken photos and videos of Chinese military equipment “on multiple occasions” and “illegally provided some of those photos to people outside of China,” according to the Global Times. The outlet describes the images that Spavor allegedly took as “second-level” state secrets.

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Carvin said the charges the Michaels faced were unreliable, particularly in the case of Spavor, who, unlike Kovrig, only worked in the private sector.

“The idea that they were involved in espionage is such a ridiculous proposition,” he said. “The idea that Canada, which does not have a human intelligence agency, would use (Spavor) a tour guide to take pictures of the military equipment that China exhibits is in some way breaking the law, or constitutes espionage, is as bold as a lie as possible. And on top of that, at the same time, they said, ‘Oh, but the photos he got weren’t that bad, nothing was really compromised.’ He just begs for faith. “

So why, if the international community is so skeptical of China’s official stance on the Michaels’ incarceration, would the country continue to push the narrative that they were spies whose arrests had no correlation with Meng’s?

Carvin said the Global Times, and by extension the Chinese government, is writing primarily for its domestic audience, which has been inundated with stories about Meng’s innocence, but is also providing an official international response.

“You always have to assume that the main audience for this material is domestic,” he said. “If you recall, during Meng’s trial, fake protesters appeared with signs saying, ‘Free Meng.’ That was for the Chinese audience. Everyone in the West saw it in about six seconds. “

Mendes agreed.

“The propaganda machine is mainly trying to convince its own people,” he said. “The reality is in the governmental and legal circles at the international level. The really sad thing about all this is that he is essentially promoting China’s abysmal rule-breaking through kidnapping or ‘hostage diplomacy’. “

Ben Cohen is a Star staff reporter in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @bcohenn

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