Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau says the newly announced declaration denouncing state-sponsored arbitrary detention of foreign nationals for political purposes isn’t aimed at any particular country – despite China’s swift reaction to the document.
In an article published in the Global Times, an English-language paper that effectively functions as a mouthpiece for the Chinese government, Chinese experts were cited calling the declaration an “ill-considered attack designed to provoke China.”
“As such, China will not be scared and make compromises, Canada’s chosen diplomatic approach has never worked before, and will not achieve any goal in the future, and this very act of Canada will just ‘rebound in the worst possible way,’ (experts) say,” the Global Times article said.
When pressed on China’s reaction to the declaration on arbitrary detention, Garneau refused to point the finger directly at China’s use of the practice.
“Let me tell you what this declaration is. It is a statement by 58 countries that the practice of arbitrary detention is totally unacceptable. It goes against human rights and it is immoral and it has to stop,” Garneau said.
“We did not identify any countries today when we made that declaration. Some of these speakers did identify individual countries, but it is specifically against the practice of arbitrary detention, something that should not have any role to play in state to state relations.”
He added that even where countries have “differences of opinion,” they should “never resort to arbitrary detention.”
“What that means effectively is that the citizens of a particular country may not want to go to another country, either to visit, or to work, or to live there, because of their fear of arbitrary detention,” Garneau said.
The new declaration — called the Declaration Against Arbitrary Detention in State-to-State Relations — had no formal teeth. Instead, the goal is to stigmatize arbitrary detention with the help of tens of countries from around the world, Garneau said.
The declaration comes on the 798th day that two Canadians, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, have spent in Chinese prisons after being arbitrarily detained over two years ago.
Spavor and Kovrig were detained in December 2018 in apparent retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver. Canada did so at the behest of the United States, which had requested her extradition.
Since the arrest, Canada-China relations have plunged into the deep freeze. Beyond the retaliatory detentions of the two Canadians, China also sentenced Canadian Robert Schellenberg to die after a hastily scheduled retrial of his drug smuggling conviction in China — just one month after Meng’s arrest.
The government has repeatedly called for clemency in Schellenberg’s case, but so far it has not been granted.
China also briefly banned imports of Canadian pork and beef, claiming a banned animal feed additive was found in a shipment of Canadian pork.
Meanwhile, the government is continuing to push for the release of Spavor and Kovrig – and Garneau said on Monday that he hopes the new declaration will pressure China to do just that.
“What we hope this declaration will do is make countries who do use arbitrary detention rethink that as a tool of coercive diplomacy and reconsider that use because it really has no place in the world today,” Garneau said.
“Again, as I’ve said, it goes against human rights. And so what we’re doing with this initial declaration is trying to put pressure on countries that do it and to tell them that this is totally unacceptable and that there are eventually going to be consequences to countries that ignore that.”
Garneau added that this push against state-sponsored arbitrary detention has “just started” with the declaration. When pressed repeatedly by reporters on the issue, he wouldn’t rule out the future use of sanctions – and he said the bid to quash the practice is going to ramp up on the international stage.
“The consultations are just going to be beginning now that we’ve all agreed on the declaration, we will now be working together as to next steps. I gave a hint this morning that we would possibly engage certain international bodies, but that’s just one of the possibilities,” Garneau said.
“One of the things we will do for sure is to publicize this as much as possible in order to get an even greater number of countries to join.”
— With files from the Canadian Press.