Canada’s ambassador to China says Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor are healthy and doing well despite being held in Chinese prisons for 730 days.
Dominic Barton, who recently met the two men through virtual visits, told the House of Commons’ Special Committee on Canada-China Relations on Tuesday that they are managing to keep their spirits high on the eve of their two-year anniversary of imprisonment.
“They are both very healthy, both physically and mentally. I have to tell you I am deeply inspired by their resilience and mindset. It is incredible what they are going through,” Mr. Barton said. “They are very, very strong and it is remarkable.”
Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor were arrested by Chinese public-security authorities on Dec. 10, 2018, shortly after Canada detained Huawei senior executive Meng Wanzhou at Vancouver International Airport on an American extradition request on allegations of bank fraud relating to violations of U.S. sanctions against Iran. The two men were later charged with espionage and have been kept in separate prisons while Ms. Meng has been out on bail and living in one of her Vancouver mansions.
Mr. Barton said Mr. Spavor is jailed in Dandong near the Chinese border with North Korea while Mr. Kovrig is incarcerated in Beijing.
Pressed by Conservative MP John Williamson on whether the two men were broken by their two-year ordeal, Mr. Barton said he was bound by privacy laws but stressed they are “robust … you would be very impressed by both of them.”
On China’s Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., Mr. Barton said he was not aware of whether the federal government planned to ban the telecom giant from Canada’s super-fast 5G networks but he noted that a negative decision would not please Beijing.
He said China’s rulers would be “upset and mad” about a ban on Huawei, considered a high-tech jewel.
However, Mr. Barton noted that Canada’s major telecoms – Rogers, BCE’s Bell Canada and Telus – have already made decisions to use other 5G vendors such as Finland’s Nokia, Ericsson from Sweden and South Korea’s Samsung.
The federal government has been under pressure from its allies and the opposition parties to announce whether it is going to ban Huawei from 5G networks. Ottawa has been conducting a cybersecurity study for the past two years while other Western allies, including the U.S., Britain and Australia, have already banned Huawei.
Mr. Barton, who recently visited Chinese-controlled Tibet, told MPs how pervasive Beijing’s surveillance has become, not only in Tibet but even in Beijing, saying the “cameras are everywhere.”
In his visit to Tibet, where China has attempted to suppress the Buddhist faith, the culture and language, Mr. Barton appeared to play down what human-rights organizations have said about forced labour of Tibetans.
“Cleary there is an effort ongoing to take people from the land, if you will, with the view kind of to reduce the poverty … and they are being moved to industrial jobs. But we were not able to get any sense of that or what that looked like, but we are very aware of that,” he said.
When he was in Tibet, Mr. Barton said he wore a Canada Goose jacket and this encouraged people to approach him. But he added it was difficult to get a sense of how people felt about China’s control over Tibet. He was not able to verify allegations that up to 500,000 Tibetans are in forced labour.
In his opening statement, Mr. Barton raised concerns about China’s more aggressive foreign policy but said there are areas where Canada could co-operate with Beijing such as climate change.
Later he told MPs that China has become more difficult to deal with because it has become a “more authoritarian place” under President Xi Jinping and that Canada must stand up on issues of human rights.
Vina Nadjibulla, the wife of Michael Kovrig, sends a direct message to Chinese President Xi, saying Mr. Kovrig is innocent and China is showing the world that nobody is safe there by keeping him detained. THE GLOBE AND MAIL
ROBERT FIFE, OTTAWA BUREAU CHIEF
The Globe and Mail, December 7, 2020