Former Canadian Diplomat Detained

Former Canadian Diplomat Detained

Michael Kovrig, a Canadian citizen and formal vice consul in the Beijing embassy, has reportedly been detained in China while working for the International Crisis Group. From Thomson Reuters:

“International Crisis Group is aware of reports that its North East Asia Senior Adviser, , has been detained in China,” the think-tank said in a statement.

“We are doing everything possible to secure additional information on Michael’s whereabouts as well as his prompt and safe release,” it added.

China’s Foreign Ministry and Ministry of Public Security did not respond immediately to questions faxed about Kovrig’s detention.

The exact reason for the detention — which was made sometime early this week, according to the sources —was not immediately clear.

The Canadian embassy declined to comment, referring queries to Ottawa. [Source]

Details about the circumstances of his arrest are not yet available. Kris Cheng at Hong Kong Free Press has more about Kovrig’s background:

The group confirmed to HKFP that Kovrig was on business for the group in China before his detention. Details surrounding the incident remain unclear.

Kovrig was vice-consul of the Canadian Embassy in Beijing between September 2014 and August 2016. Following that, he moved to Hong Kong as consul of the Canadian Consulate General. He remained in the role until September 2016.

The International Crisis Group was formed in 1995 and is headquartered in Belgium. The transnational non-profit works “to prevent wars and shape policies that will build a more peaceful world,” according to its website. [Source]

While the reasons for Kovrig’s detention are not yet clear, it comes as Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou is undergoing a bail hearing in Vancouver after being arrested on suspicion of fraud at the request of U.S. officials. Soon after her detention, Chinese officials vowed that Canada would face consequences for her arrest. Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng released a statement saying, “China strongly urges the Canadian side to immediately release the detained Huawei executive … or face grave consequences that the Canadian side should be held accountable for.” Chris Buckley and Jane Perlez report for The New York Times:

It is unclear whether Mr. Kovrig’s disappearance is related to his work for the crisis group. He specialized in sober analyses of North Korea, tensions over the South China Sea, China’s involvement in international peacekeeping and other diplomatic issues.

He often was quoted in the news media and wrote commentaries for newspapers, including the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong.

[…] A former Canadian ambassador to China, Howard Balloch, said that although he did not know the details of Mr. Kovrig’s disappearance, it seemed to be connected to the arrest of Ms. Meng.

“It appears it is retaliation with the intention of putting pressure on the Canadian government,” Mr. Balloch said. “If so, it won’t work. The Canadian court system is not susceptible to pressure. It is truly independent.” [Source]

Since Meng’s arrest, tensions have risen between Canada and China with business and political exchanges cancelled. Phoebe Zhang of South China Morning Post reports:

Canadian businesses operating in China are starting to feel the chill and the signing of one major deal has been postponed, a well-placed source said.

“The consequences have already begun,” said the source, noting that a Canadian firm had been due to ink a major agreement in the next few weeks.

“The local partner, a Chinese private sector actor, has told the Canadian partner that now is not a good time to sign,” said the source, who asked to remain anonymous given the sensitivity of the matter. [Source]

The arrest of Kovrig has parallels with the imprisonment of Julia and Kevin Garratt, a Canadian couple who had lived in China for decades and were charged with spying and stealing state secrets in 2014. Julia was released after several months but Kevin spent more than two years in prison. Robert Delaney at South China Morning Post spoke with David Mulroney, former Canadian ambassador in Beijing, about the similarities between the two cases:

“I don’t want to speculate, but there is some history there that would be a cause of concern for us,” Mulroney said, referring to the case of Kevin and Julia Garratt, a married couple who were imprisoned in China on spy charges shortly after Canadian authorities arrested a Chinese national in response to a US government request.

After living in China for 30 years without incident, the were arrested by Chinese security officials in August 2014 and accused of spying and stealing military secrets – charges the denied, according to reports by Canada’s CBC News.

Julia was released in February 2015, but was put on bail with restrictions pending trial, and did not return to Canada until May 2016; Kevin was not released until September 2016, the reports said.

[…] Mulroney also rebutted Chinese claims that Canada failed to inform Beijing about Meng’s detention until officials were asked about the case. The assertion by foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang came just hours after Ottawa insisted it had notified the Chinese consulate in Vancouver on December 1, the same day she was arrested. [Source]

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