The World Today for October 05, 2021


Hostage Diplomacy


Recently a plane from China carrying Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor arrived in Calgary. At the same time, Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou landed in the Chinese city of Shenzhen. As the Guardian reported, the two Canadians had been held in China for more than 1,000 days in retaliation against Canada for seeking to arrest and extradite Meng to the US to face fraud charges.

Meng, meanwhile, had to admit wrongdoing before US officials released her. It was a minor move that was not equivalent to pleading guilty and carried no punishment, Foreign Policy reported. Meng allegedly misled HSBC, a major global bank, about Huawei’s role in a company operating in Iran.

Chinese officials said Meng’s detention was politically motivated. “The true purpose was to surprise Chinese high-tech enterprises and companies as a way to hold back Chinese advancement in terms of science and technology,” Liu Yang, a counselor in China’s UN mission, told CNN. “The US and Canada’s action is very typical of arbitrary detention.”

They similarly maintain that Kovrig and Spavor were detained lawfully as spies, the Associated Press reported. Spavor was a Canadian living in China who had business ties with North Korea. Kovrig was an ex-Canadian diplomat working for a non-governmental organization.

The three-year contretemps marked the development of a new subset of international relations called “hostage diplomacy.” Whether or not it was successful is an open question, however.

In Shenzhen, the Ping An Financial Center, one of the tallest buildings in China, was lit up with a sign that said “Welcome home Meng Wanzhou!” Her speech after landing feted China and its leaders. “Without a powerful motherland, I would not have my freedom today,” she said, according to NBC News.

Writing in the Conversation, however, University of Calgary public policy scholar Hugh Stephens argued that China lost this bout of hostage diplomacy. It appeared to cave to American and Canadian demands, too, as the two industrialized democracies allied against it.

And the quid pro quo as well as other recent Chinese hostage releases arguably proves that Huawei has close ties to Chinese government leaders in Beijing, justifying Western suspicions about Huawei technology serving the communist power’s ends, argued the Washington Post.

But China also showed that it would be “boldly transactional with foreign nationals” even when facing up to its most powerful rivals, added the New York Times.

A very dangerous game of hardball between East and West is getting much harder.

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