Two Canadian citizens recently underwent separate show trials in China. By conducting both trials in secrecy and barring Canadian diplomats from attending, Beijing violated long-standing international norms.
The trials took place right around the same time indignant Chinese diplomats lectured their U.S. counterparts in Alaska that the Chinese Communist Party always upholds “the purposes and principles of the U.N. Charter” and shares “the same as the common values of humanity,” namely “peace, development, fairness, justice, freedom, and democracy.”
The two Canadian citizens are Michael Kovrig, a former Canadian diplomat who worked for the International Crisis Group, and Michael Spavor, director of Paektu Cultural Exchange, an organization that promotes investment and tourism in North Korea. Their ordeal began in December 2018 after Canada arrested Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of China’s telecom giant Huawei and the daughter of the company’s founder. The United States alleges Meng violated U.S. sanctions against Iran by engaging in bank fraud, so it requested the Canadian government arrest Meng and extradite her to the United States.
Shortly after Meng’s arrest, however, Beijing threatened Canada with “severe consequences,” and detained Kovrig and Spavor two days later. The Chinese authorities waited for another 18 months before it formally charged the pair with espionage and “spying on state secrets and intelligence for foreign powers” on Jun. 19, 2020, charges that typically carry heavy sentences including life in prison.
Beijing previously denied it held Kovrig and Spavor as political hostages. But on Jun. 23, 2019, 19 prominent Canadians — including a former Supreme Court justice — urged Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to release Meng and conduct a “prisoner” swap with China for the freedom of Kovrig and Spavor. A day after this letter became public, Zhou Lijian, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, told reporters if Canada ended Meng’s extradition process, it “could open up space for resolution to the situation of the two Canadians.”
His words were an open admission by the Chinese government that it arbitrarily arrested Kovrig and Spavor on trumped-up charges with the intent to hold them as diplomatic hostages. Since then, many senior officials of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including its minister Wang Yi, affirmed China’s intention of using the two Canadians as bargaining chips for Meng. The world’s second most powerful nation has no shame in acting like a desperate pirate.
In Canada, Meng has been able to enjoy the full benefits of an open and free society. After her arrest, she had immediate access to her lawyer and was shortly released on bail. For the last two years, she has lived in a million-dollar mansion and has been spotted going out to shop and dine. The Canadian government even granted Meng’s family an exemption from international traveler COVID-19 restrictions so Meng could reunite with her family in Canada.
Meng and her lawyer have been fighting her extradition since late 2018. As her case moves through the Canadian judicial system, Meng’s legal rights have been fully recognized and protected under Canadian law, with Trudeau reiterating he wouldn’t bow to Beijing’s pressure to intervene in Meng’s case because he respects the Canadian judicial system’s independence.
Meng’s treatment in Canada is a stark contrast to the ordeal Kovrig and Spavor have experienced in China. As of March, the two Canadians have been in captivity for 27 months, in isolation, and with no family visits. Their contact with their home country and their families and loved ones has been reduced to occasional messages from their families and sparse visits from Canadian diplomats.
During the pandemic, the Chinese authorities prevented even Canadian diplomats from visiting either Kovrig or Spavor for nine months. The outside world could only imagine the torment they have endured given the accounts of other foreign nationals who have been detained by the CCP.
Peter Humphrey is an American scholar who spent two years imprisoned in Shanghai on bogus charges of “illegally acquiring personal information.” According to Humphrey, China keeps detainees in jail for a long time, sometimes as long as two years before their trial. Detainees are poorly fed and are interrogated daily.
Those in solitary confinement are often sleep-deprived as the bright light bulbs in their cells are turned on for a full 24 hours each day. Some detainees must endure “propaganda lessons for significant hours of the day” while others are forced to work in factories, often producing “Made-in-China” exports destined for overseas markets.
Lawyer visits are rare, and “when finally allowed, they are conducted under surveillance, without any privacy.” There is no due process, and it is next to impossible for detainees to mount any adequate defense.
It’s clear the CCP set up China’s present legal system to serve its political needs. When the Chinese police arrest someone, that person is called an “un-convicted criminal,” and he or she is already considered guilty in the eyes of the authorities, helping to explain the 99 percent conviction rate of China’s court system. This is how the “rule of law” works in China.
Last week, as American and Chinese diplomats met in Alaska, the Chinese authorities held “trials” for Kovrig and Spavor separately behind closed doors in China. Canadian diplomats were barred from visiting before the trials began as well as from attending their trials while in progress, which were both concluded within a day.
Kovrig, Spavor, and their lawyers now await their final verdicts. Likely, the Chinese authorities have already decided what their sentences will be. As Guy Saint-Jacques, a former Canadian ambassador to China, told Agence France-Presse:
China does not even try to make this look like a real trial as evidence is not shared with the defense and the judge does not even take the time to review it. It just confirms that the process is preordained by the Communist party and this is a political case.
From Kovrig and Spavor’s illegal arrest, prolonged and unlawful detention, and the inhuman treatments they’ve endured in detention, to their one-day show trials, the CCP has repeatedly violated U.N. conventions against torture and the UN’s Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. When Chinese diplomats claimed at the Alaska summit that the CCP always upholds “the purposes and principles of the U.N. Charter” and the CCP’s sharing “common values of humanity” such as fairness, justice, and freedom, they were lying shamelessly.
The truth is that since its founding, the CCP has been deeply hostile to Western democracies and liberal values such as justice, freedom, and democracy. It has a long history of undermining the values we hold dear and has caused Chinese people a great deal of suffering. The CCP’s actions have completely invalidated its rhetoric on values.
The CCP is in no position to lecture any other nation on values and human rights. China’s hostage diplomacy and the ordeals of Kovrig and Spavor are just the latest proof that an emboldened CCP is increasingly willing to put citizens of other countries in harm’s way. If there’s to be any hope for deterring such egregious behavior in the future, Western democracies must work together to expose the CCP’s lies and take better measures to protect their citizens.