The second grim anniversary of Beijing’s arbitrary detention of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor is near, and two leading experts on China say they are backing a push for Canadians to do something about it — bombard Chinese embassies and consulates with holiday cards for the captives.
Charles Burton, senior fellow with the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, and former ambassador to China Guy Saint-Jacques are among those supporting a new campaign between now and Christmas to raise awareness and condemnation of the Chinese government’s detention of the pair of Michaels.
The idea is simple: write a holiday card with encouraging words for either Kovrig or Spavor, address the card to the Chinese ambassador in the embassy or consulate nearest to them, and then post a picture of the card on social media using the hashtag #FreeChinaHostages.
“It weighs heavily on all of us,” said Burton of the continued detention of the two Canadians.
“Of course, they’ll never get the cards, but the idea of flooding embassies with these envelopes of support from ordinary people around the world I think could send the message that might help.”
Beijing has been detaining Kovrig and Spavor in what is widely condemned as “hostage diplomacy” since Dec. 10, 2018. The pair were seized just days after Canadian authorities arrested Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou at the behest of American law enforcement officials.
Meng and her company face dozens of counts related to allegedly skirting sanctions on Iran and stealing corporate secrets.
But while Meng is free on bail in a Vancouver mansion, Kovrig and Spavor are receiving only limited consular access and are detained in what have been described as “harsh” conditions.
And while Meng was arrested under the longstanding legal terms of the extradition treaty between Canada and the U.S. — which routinely sees more than 90 per cent of requests approved — Kovrig and Spavor have been charged under vague allegations of endangering national security.
The #FreeChinaHostages campaign won’t be limited to Canada either, said Burton, a senior fellow with the institute and a former diplomat who served in China. He added the goal is to get people in as many countries as possible to join in and keep the spotlight on the arbitrary detention.
The push comes amid one report in the Wall Street Journal that American officials are floating the idea of offering Meng a deferred prosecution agreement that would let her return to China.
The reports suggest law enforcement officials south of the border want to try to get Meng to admit to some of the allegations in the lawsuit against her, but that the deal would not include Huawei writ large.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would not comment on the report when asked about it on Friday.
“I’m not going to comment on those reports. Canadians know well that our top priority is the safe return of the two Michaels,” he said in a press conference.
“I think we’re going to continue to work as hard as we possibly can to bring these two Michaels home. It’s been extremely difficult for them, for their families and their loved ones. We will continue to stand up for Canadians in difficulty anywhere around the world.”
With files from Global’s Abigail Bimman.