Canada has not led a major diplomatic initiative on the international stage since the Landmine Ban Treaty in the late 1990s.
But on Monday, Foreign Minister Marc Garneau is expected to welcome the unveiling of the Declaration on Arbitrary Detention in State-to-State Relations, an agreement signed by 58 states and the European Union aimed at ending what Garneau called the practice of nations unacceptable. detain foreign nationals for diplomatic purposes. The virtual announcement will include statements by UK human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
The agreement is officially agnostic when it comes to target states. But it emerged from the travels of Garneaus’ predecessor, François-Philippe Champagne, as he sought support from like-minded countries in the cases of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, Canadian citizens who have been detained for more than two years in China.
The Canadian government believes the two were held in retaliation for the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver in late 2018, a charge the Chinese deny.
The statement is not binding and there are no punitive consequences for violating states, but Garneau said he believes it is significant.
This is an extremely important moment, when all these countries agree that the practice of arbitrary detention is immoral and illegal. This is something that I think will increase in terms of impact, he said.
Champagne said the idea was to give a voice to those whose freedom had been stolen. He said his inspiration was NATO’s Article 5, under which an attack on a member state is considered an attack on all.
But this analogy breaks down on closer inspection. Section 5 entails punitive action against an aggressor. The only consequence for a State guilty of arbitrary detention is damage to reputation.
When the idea was at the discussion stage, former Canadian Ambassador to Beijing Guy Saint-Jacques said action that triggered automatic sanctions from all signatory countries could force states like China to change the way they do business.
A law recently proposed by the Canadian Coalition Against Terrorism and the Macdonald-Laurier Institute would allow the government to impose sanctions on property belonging to the country and block the admissibility into Canada of foreign nationals or states involved in the capture. hostages.
But denunciation and shame are unlikely to have the same coercive impact. The goal of building a taboo around arbitrary detention is based on the fact that countries like China and Iran are moved by the diplomacy of shame. Evidence suggests that embarrassing China in particular is counterproductive, but instead sparks outrage born of national pride.
Still, the declaration will not be welcomed by China, North Korea or Iran, the main targets.
Despite all its good intentions, the statement is unlikely to win the exit of Kovrig and Spavor.
Getting 58 countries to agree on the time of day is an achievement, let alone subscribing to implicit criticisms of Chinese policy.
This is unlikely to heat up relations between Canada and China, just weeks after the country banned the importation of goods produced by forced labor into China’s Xinjiang Province. This measure led the Chinese to ask Canada to stop interfering in internal affairs.
Justin Trudeau has previously dismissed the retaliatory measures as counterproductive.
Arguably his government’s policy balances the mistreatment of minorities in China, the erosion of free speech in Hong Kong, and the detention of the two Michaels, with a business relationship that sees Canada exporting 23 billion dollars in goods and welcome 160,000 Chinese students before the pandemic. The Canadian man in Beijing, Dominic Barton, was enthusiastic about restoring relations and doing more business in China.
Garneau said he was tweaking the policy left behind by Champagne.
Our relationship is complex and evolving, he said. It is a relationship where there are areas where we will cooperate; areas in which we will compete; the areas where we will coexist; and the areas in which we will dispute.
Garneau said Canada must engage with Beijing. China will be, perhaps by the end of this decade, the largest economy on the planet, with a fifth of the population. It is important to be engaged, but it is important that the two countries understand each other. This is what we seek to do because we believe it can lead to a constructive relationship, in which we are honest with each other.
Garneau is diplomatic by nature, but the Chinese Communist Party’s discourse of frankness and integrity leaves him open to criticism of credulity.
Xi Jinpings China believes in its destiny to develop and intends to ensure that socialism with Chinese characteristics assumes a dominant position over capitalism.
The rhetoric of the new foreign ministers does not suggest that he truly believes we are engaged in a war of values with a relentless competitor.
Meanwhile, two Canadians sit in Chinese prisons, pawns in a global diplomatic chess game.
For all his good intentions, the statement is unlikely to win the exit of Kovrig and Spavor. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that talks to resolve the criminal charges against Meng have stalled and are now dormant. It was hoped that if the United States dropped the extradition case and allowed Meng to return home, the Chinese could release the two Canadian detainees.
Garneau would not be fired on the state of these discussions. We are exploring all avenues, he said. I have a piece of paper on my desk that reminds me of my number one priority, he says.
The intention to internationalize outrage is noble. But that is unlikely to help both Michaels.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2021
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