Editorial

Leaders of the top industrial nations, meeting on the weekend at an English beach resort, drew political heavyweights into their coalition to push back against China’s growing world power. This has probably strengthened Canada’s hand in telling China to release the Canadian hostages now languishing in Chinese prisons.

Leaders of the top industrial nations, meeting on the weekend at an English beach resort, drew political heavyweights into their coalition to push back against China’s growing world power. This has probably strengthened Canada’s hand in telling China to release the Canadian hostages now languishing in Chinese prisons.

At the urging of U.S. President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, chairing the G7 this year, invited India, South Africa, South Korea and Australia to sit along with Canada, the European Union and the rest of the seven regular members of the group. This enlarged group produced a text they called Open Societies Statement which, though it never named China, was clearly aimed against the repressive Communist dictatorship and its growing assertiveness on the world stage.

Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor have been detained in China since December, 2018.

DARRYL DYCK / CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor have been detained in China since December, 2018.

Canada has been conducting its own diplomatic efforts to line up support for its demand that China release Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, imprisoned in China for the last two and a half years in retaliation for Canada’s detention of Huawei Technologies executive Meng Wanzhou. Ms. Meng was arrested in Vancouver on Dec. 1, 2018 at the request of the U.S. government to face fraud charges in the U.S.

Canada in February issued a statement denouncing the use of arbitrary detention in state-to-state relations, signed eventually by 60 governments and clearly aimed against China’s hostage-taking and similar conduct by other governments. The statement was supported by European democracies but lacked signatures from Third World heavy-hitters.

The Open Societies Statement from the Carbis Bay meeting, however, fills that gap. The statement spells out the values of liberal democracies including human rights, fair elections, social inclusion, freedom of expression and the rule of law. It also warns against authoritarianism, electoral interference, corruption, economic coercion, manipulation of information and a long list of other evils.

Coming to Canada’s point, the statement commits the signatories to exchange information and co-ordinate effective responses to disinformation, arbitrary detention and other threats to human rights.

The general effect of this statement is to show China that it is increasingly isolated politically and diplomatically in Africa and in the Asia-Pacific region, where it has been using its financial muscle and some military displays to assemble a group of client states dependent on Chinese support.

The specific effect, of interest to Canada, is that China’s use of arbitrary detention is part of the pattern of conduct that worries its regional neighbours and has now sparked creation of a formal coalition to uphold open-society values. This should help persuade China that hostage-taking has given it a bad reputation that weakens its position in the region and in the world at large.

If China is alert to which way the wind is blowing, it should now recognize that it has lost this round and should quit before the damage gets worse. It has not coerced Canada into disregarding its treaty obligations to the United States. It has not made Canada send Meng Wanzhou back home to China. It has, however, provoked the top industrial nations and four major powers of Africa and the Asia-Pacific region to form a stop-China coalition.

Sound like a good moment to throw in the towel. Let the two Michaels go home and make a fresh start at winning friends and influencing people without taking hostages.