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Chinese policemen patrol outside the Canadian Embassy in Beijing, Dec. 12, 2018 (AP photo by Andy Wong).

Is China Detaining Foreign Nationals to Gain Leverage Against the West?

Monday, March 4, 2019

On Monday, China accused Michael Kovrig, a former Canadian diplomat detained in December, of espionage, though authorities stopped short of announcing formal charges. Kovrig was taken into custody in the aftermath of Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou at the request of U.S. authorities. Along with the detention of another Canadian national, the businessman Michael Spavor, Kovrig’s arrest was widely seen as a tit-for-tat move by China to gain leverage against Canada as the hearing over Meng’s extradition to the U.S. proceeds. In an email interview, Sophie Richardson, the China director for Human Rights Watch, explains recent high-profile cases of China detaining foreign nationals, as well as Chinese expatriates and dual citizens, and contrasts China’s treatment of detained foreign nationals with the treatment of Chinese nationals, such as Meng, detained by Western governments.

World Politics Review: How long has the Chinese government been using the detention of foreign citizens as a means to apply political pressure? What is the scale of this practice, and how effective is it? ...

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