Beijing’s detention of two Canadians – including the political analyst Michael Kovrig – has sent a “chill” through American researchers studying China, even if think tanks are not yet cautioning them against visiting the country.
That was the assessment of prominent US-based sinologist Bonnie Glaser on Thursday when asked in Singapore about whether the arrests in December were affecting China-focused academics. “There is a lot of concern in Washington … about Michael Kovrig being detained because my work, the work of so many others, is just the same,” Glaser said at a seminar at the Lion City’s ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.
“The actual detaining of Kovrig sent a chill, really, throughout the community of experts,” said the researcher, who serves as the director of the China Power Project at Washington’s Centre for Strategic and International Studies.
Kovrig, a Canadian ex-diplomat, was in Beijing for work associated with his role as adviser to the International Crisis Group think tank when he was detained on December 10 for “endangering state security”. Today marks 30 days since the arrest.
Kovrig’s arrest and the detention on the same day of Michael Spavor, another Canadian, who runs a consultancy in China, followed Canada’s December 1 arrest in Vancouver of Chinese technology firm Huawei’s chief technology officer Meng Wanzhou. The timing of the arrests has lead to speculation that China’s actions were retaliatory.
Beijing has rejected such suggestions, saying the two men “without a doubt” violated China’s laws.
Following Washington’s renewal in early January of a China travel advisory – this time warning citizens of “arbitrary enforcement of local laws” – Glaser said some within the American Beijing-watching community were “reconsidering” whether or not to enter the mainland for their research.
But Glaser added that she had “not heard of any think tank in the United States that is telling its scholars that they should not go [to China]”, and that whether to visit was a question for individuals.
“I myself am definitely concerned,” Glaser said. “My guess is that the Chinese have a list of people from different countries and if they have a problem with one country they will just arrest the citizens [of that country] who are on that list.
She added: “The Chinese have used coercion in a growing number of ways, and I don’t think they will refrain from using this kind of coercion in the future.”
The American researcher said that over the next week various concerned parties would issue open letters calling for the release of the two Canadians.
Glaser’s comments came as China’s ambassador in Canada issued a fierce broadside against the North American country for practising “double standards” and running down his country’s judiciary in seeking the immediate release of Spavor and Kovrig.
The demands showed Canada’s world view was shaped by “Western egotism and white supremacy”, ambassador Lu Shaye wrote in Ottawa’s The Hill Times newspaper.
He referenced the detention of Meng, the Huawei executive, and said in her case, there was a lack of interest among Canadians about her welfare.
Meng is out on bail in Canada after her arrest on fraud charges.
The Chinese businesswoman, who was arrested at the request of the US, was granted full rights under Canadian law – including access to her lawyers and family.
Kovrig and Spavor, meanwhile, have reportedly been denied legal representation and family visits, and have access to one consular visit per month.