The Wall Street Journal recently disclosed that Chinese government officials have repeatedly warned their U.S. government counterparts: “The U.S. should drop prosecutions of the Chinese scholars in American courts, or Americans in China might find themselves in violation of Chinese law.” No other foreign government has ever made such blunt threats against U.S. citizens in such a fashion.
Beijing’s warning came after the U.S. Department of Justice charged several Chinese scholars with visa fraud in connection with a scheme of hiding their affiliations with China’s People’s Liberation Army so they could study, conduct research, and sometimes collect valuable intelligence in the United States.
The DOJ and FBI also allege the Chinese government has actively used China’s embassy and consulates in the United States to facilitate these schemes and offer protection for those involved — one of the main reasons that led to the U.S. government shutdown of the Chinese consulate in Houston.
All the Chinese scholars who were charged have received legal representations and gone through due process just like Americans who may fall into a similar situation. Nevertheless, as the Trump administration made these charges public, Beijing feels deeply humiliated. In response, Beijing issued threats to punish innocent Americans in China unless the Trump administration drops its charges against those Chinese scholars.
While our country should never cave to the Chinese Communist Party’s blackmail, since the CCP has either threatened or imposed similar “hostage diplomacy” on America’s allies such as Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom, any Americans in China should take the CCP’s threat seriously.
The CCP has been punishing Canberra ever since the Australian government pushed the World Health Organization to conduct an independent inquiry into the origin and the spread of COVID-19. Beijing first imposed an 80 percent tariff on Australia’s barley exports and suspended beef imports from four major meat processing plants in Australia.
Then, in August, Cheng Lei, an Australian citizen of Chinese descent who worked for China’s state media, China Global Television Network, disappeared in China. The Chinese government waited until September to acknowledge that Cheng was detained without being formally charged, but refused to disclose her whereabouts. It is unclear if Cheng has received any legal representation. Her family and friends suspect her arrest is part of CCP’s “hostage diplomacy,” aiming to intimidate the Australian government into abandoning the coronavirus-related inquiry.
A month after Cheng’s arrest, two other Australian journalists, Bill Birtles and Mike Smith, barely escaped China after a five-day diplomatic stand-off between Australia and China. Currently, there are no Australian journalists in mainland China because no one feels safe working there any longer.
Canada has also been on the receiving end of the CCP’s “hostage diplomacy.” In June, China officially charged two Canadian citizens, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, with espionage after detaining the two men for more than 18 months — all part of Beijing’s retaliation against Canada for arresting Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of China’s telecom giant Huawei and daughter of its founder. The United States alleged that Meng violated U.S. sanctions against Iran by engaging in bank fraud and asked the Canadian government to arrest Meng and extradite her to the United States.
While Meng still lives in a $13-million Vancouver home with her family, enjoying full legal protection under Canadian law including a high-power legal team fighting her extradition, the two Michaels have been languishing in Chinese prisons for more than 500 days, with no family visits, no legal representation, and limited contact with the Canadian consulate.
Beijing previously denied Kovrig and Spavor were arrested in retaliation for Meng’s arrest. But after Beijing officially charged these two men, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Zhou Lijian, openly suggested that if Canada sets Meng free, it could affect the fate of the two Canadians in Beijing. Zhao’s shameless suggestion is the clearest admission that the aforementioned arrests and trumped-up charges are all part of Beijing’s “hostage-taking.”
Furthermore, China’s ambassador to Canada, Cong Peiwu, recently warned if the Canadian government grants asylum to Hongkongers fleeing the city’s new national security law, “the good health and safety of those 300,000 Canadian passport holders in Hong Kong, and the large number of Canadian companies operating in Hong Kong” will be in danger.
China’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, Liu Xiaoming, issued a similar threat after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the United Kingdom would offer Hongkongers who hold British National Overseas passports and their families a path to British citizenship. Liu warned the Chinese government would stop recognizing BNO passports as valid travel documents, effectively entrapping three million Hongkongers from moving to the U.K.
Beijing’s hostage diplomacy has, thus far, failed to intimidate any country into submission. The Australian government stands firmly behind its call for an independent inquiry into the origin and spread of the coronavirus. Its proposal won the support from more than 120 countries and was officially adopted by WHO’s decision-making body, the World Health Assembly.
In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau repeatedly said he could not and would not intervene in the Meng case because “Canada has a strong and an independent justice system.” After Beijing imposed the new national security law on Hong Kong, Trudeau said his country would stand up for Hong Kong. He suspended Canada’s extradition treaty with Hong Kong immediately and vowed not to export sensitive military equipment to the city. He also directed his government to offer additional immigration pathways for Hongkongers.
In the United Kingdom, the Johnson administration not only reaffirmed its commitment to offer a path to citizenship for Hong Kong BNO holders but also barred Chinese telecom giant Huawei from the U.K.’s 5G network, a big blow to Beijing’s global ambition.
In the United States, the Trump administration ignored Beijing’s threat and went ahead with the charges against those Chinese scholars who committed visa fraud by lying about their affiliation with PLA. According to a Wall Street Journal report, a March tweet from Zhao Lijian, which spread a conspiracy theory blaming U.S. soldiers for bringing the coronavirus to China, has “enraged Trump more than anything else.”
Trump responded with the most confrontational policies Beijing has ever encountered from any U.S. administration, including signing a human rights act to protect Hongkongers and Uighur Muslims, imposing sanctions on Chinese Communist Party members and Chinese businesses that are involved in human rights violations, closing China’s consulate in Houston, blocking key technology exports to China, and increasing arms sales to Taiwan.
China’s international image has also taken a hit. A Pew Research survey of 14 advanced economies — including Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom — shows that unfavorable public opinion of China has reached a historic high.
What’s the lesson in Beijing? John Demers, head of the Justice Department’s national security division, summarized it this way: “If China wants to be seen as one of the world’s leading nations, it should respect the rule of law and stop taking hostages.”