When the US published its latest travel advisory warning its citizens about the "arbitrary law enforcement" risks they could face in China (and offering a list of recommended precautions for those obstinate enough to ignore the government's warnings), some wondered, why now? With trade negotiations set to begin in earnest next week, one would think that the US wouldn't want to kick the hornet's nest (though, in fairness, the DOJ's steady stream of indictments against Chinese government-sponsored hackers have continued, as has the prosecution of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou).
Well, Canada's Globe and Mail might have just answered that question by confirming that the Beijing's suspected retaliation against Ottawa over Meng's arrest has been even more severe than previously believed. According to the paper, 13 Canadians have been detained in China since Dec. 1 - the day Meng was arrested by Canadian authorities after landing in Vancouver.
Spavor and Kovrig
Until now, the arrests of only three Canadians - those of businessman Michael Spavor, former diplomat Michael Kovrig and teacher Sarah McIver (who has been deported) - had been publicly known.
Fortunately, eight of the 13 detainees have been released. And the Canadian government has so far refused to confirm the identities of the other 10.
But still, the report begs the question: Why has Justin Trudeau's government been so reluctant to issue a travel advisory of its own, as conservative lawmakers have been urging him to do?
Global Affairs Canada spokesman Guillaume Bérubé said in a statement to The Globe and Mail that the government is aware that 13 Canadians have been detained in China, excluding Hong Kong, since Dec. 1, 2018. Previously, only Michael Kovrig, Michael Spavor and Sarah McIver were publicly known to have been detained in China since Canada arrested Ms. Meng, chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. They were taken into custody after China promised retaliation for Ms. Meng’s arrest.
Mr. Bérubé said in the statement that at least eight of the 13 have been released. Global Affairs Canada did not disclose the identities of the other 10 Canadians.
Meanwhile, a top Chinese prosecutor said this week that Spavor and Kovrig had "without a doubt" violated laws pertaining to national security - though some suspect that this is merely a ruse to hold them in custody, since Chinese law offers broad latitude to authorities when it comes to issues of national security. McIver has been released and returned to Canada, but that's all that is known about the releases.
All told, some 200 Canadians are involved in some form of legal proceedings in China for a variety of alleged crimes and infractions - including one man who has been accused of smuggling "an enormous amount" of drugs into the country. Many are out on bail or on probation. Over the years, the number of Canadians detained in China has remained relatively constant (by comparison, some 900 Canadians are being held in US jails).
But that doesn't mean the recent spike in arrests isn't troubling.
As Tory lawmakers push for Canada to issue a travel advisor of its own, some report hearing anecdotal evidence about a spike in detentions of westerners in China.
The Conservatives are urging the government to issue a new travel warning for China in light of the detentions on Dec. 10 of Mr. Kovrig, an analyst for the non-profit organization International Crisis Group, and Mr. Spavor, who owns an organization that brings visitors to North Korea.
Tory foreign affairs critic Erin O’Toole said he is concerned China is also using "administrative harassment" of Canadians, such as Ms. McIver, as retaliation. He said he is hearing from parents who are anxious about adult children teaching in China.
"In one case, there was a mother speaking to me about her son who had seen some other Western-looking teachers picked up by authorities on the street. Now, I have no idea if those were Canadians, but this was a son telling his mother, 'I’m a little concerned about what I see to be a bit more of a security interest in westerners,'" Mr. O’Toole said.
And rightfully so. China has likened Meng's detention to a kidnapping and has warned Ottawa to "prepare for escalation."
In its travel advisory, the US warned about Beijing's tendency to issue "exit bans" for foreigners without informing the target - sometimes they don't learn of the ban until they try to leave China and are stopped at airports or the border.
It's just the latest reason why any Westerners living or traveling on the mainland might want to considering getting out of Dodge.