For years, Chinese observers have warned of Beijing’s growing use of “hostage diplomacy,” and last month it was fully exposed. Two Canadians in China, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, were arrested by Chinese authorities in 2018, shortly after Canada arrested Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou at the request of the United States for alleged sanctions violations American. As soon as Meng was returned to China at the end of September, Kovrig and Spavor were released.
Make no mistake: just like their North Korean clients, the Chinese government has taken hostages to force a favorable political outcome. They have been rewarded for their behavior, and history shows that will only continue. A warning to anyone traveling to China: you could easily be next.
For any tourist traveling to China, the risk of being detained is statistically low. Before the pandemic, nearly three million Americans traveled to China in any given year. The detainees had commercial or institutional links there. For example, Michael Kovrig, released during the resolution of the Meng case, advises a nonprofit organization in international conflict in the Northeast Asia region.
But given the arbitrariness of China’s behavior, it would be unwise to simply ignore the risk.
A few examples can convince you otherwise.
Does this sound familiar to you? It’s the same playbook Beijing just used.
The cruelty of this conduct cannot be underestimated. The Chinese government knowingly imprison and prosecute innocent foreign citizens for tangential political ends.
China refuses to reform its legal system to modern international standards or allow an independent judiciary. Beijing’s message to foreigners is clear: the law and its supposed protections for the innocent are disposable as soon as it becomes beneficial to get rid of them. In the United States, our rule of law system protects the American people from our government. The Chinese system protects the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) from the Chinese people, as well as the ordinary course of geopolitics.
Fortunately, we have tools at our disposal to answer them.
First, we can apply sanctions to Chinese individuals, officials and judges responsible for any future hostage-taking of US citizens using the recently passed Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage-Taking Act. The law should also be expanded to allow the US government to target officials who seize the citizens of our allies. With such a change, the United States could have punished China for targeting Canadians.
Second, the West may further discourage travel to China, especially from business executives and others most at risk.
Finally, the international business community, which is disproportionately targeted by China’s hostage-taking (as well as China’s intellectual property theft), should find its voice. Businesses should consider cutting back on business travel to China. This would make it clear to Beijing that its hostage-taking tactics are having consequences.
Today, Meng is quoted in Chinese media about the “torment” she allegedly suffered wearing an ankle monitor while living comfortably in one of her two mansions while awaiting her extradition. We have yet to hear from the Michaels about their treatment from the Chinese government. If and when they finally speak, Western travelers to China should listen carefully: those who visit China could suffer a similar fate.