Sunday, December 23, 2018

Expats anxious over China arrests

Expats anxious over China arrests

BEIJING: The arrest of a third Canadian in China has heightened anxiety, even in an expatriate community accustomed to some level of fear and uncertainty.

Beijing on Thursday confirmed that it arrested Canadian Sarah McIver for “working illegally” in the country, following the detention of two other Canadians on national security grounds.

While Canadian authorities said the latest detention appeared to be a routine visa case, it has nonetheless exacerbated concerns among Canadian expatriates in China – fearful that they too might be detained over a legal technicality.

“I think most Canadians who are here are living in fear at some level, a fear of losing what they have here, a fear of getting arrested, fear of retribution,” said Ricky Ng-Adam, founder of CoderBunker, a community of international software deve­lopers, who regularly travels to Shanghai for work.

“It’s a constant fear,” he said, adding that some of his compatriots self-censor their social media postings and try to keep a low profile.

Former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and China-based business consultant Michael Spavor were detained on Dec 10 and accused of engaging in activities that “endanger China’s national security”.

Kovrig is a senior adviser at the International Crisis Group think tank, while Spavor facilitates trips to North Korea, including visits by former NBA star Dennis Rodman.

Though no link has officially been made between the three detentions, suspicions are mounting that China is holding at least two of the Canadian nationals in retaliation of Canada’s arrest of Meng Wanzhou, a top executive at Chinese telecom giant Huawei.

The ambiguity surrounding the arrests has also added to the unease, said Canadian Adrian Wu, who frequently travels to China.

“Even though the third person arrested is not related to the cases of the first two, people see the headlines and immediately think: ‘A Canadian got taken’,” he said.

Ottawa has repeatedly said Meng’s arrest was not political but rather part of a judicial process in keeping with an extradition treaty with Washington.

Meng was released on bail last week in Vancouver pending her US extradition hearing on fraud charges related to sanctions-breaking business dealings with Iran.

Observers say Canada is increasingly looking like collateral damage in a simmering US-China trade war, with Beijing at the same time working to ease trade tensions with Washington.

“Canada is really just caught in between the US and China. We’re like a scapegoat,” a businesswoman in education said, requesting anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Like a number of Canadian expats, she is using the holidays as an excuse to stay out of the country.

“At least I can remain in North America to see how the situation will play out from a safe distance,” she added.

Others in the Canadian community, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they are making contingency plans to leave the country “just in case” the situation takes a turn for the worse.

It is now up to China to decide how much they want to escalate the situation, said Hugh Stephens, distinguished fellow at the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.

“The Chinese aren’t going to influence the Canadian court system by whatever they do but there could be a lot of collateral damage, which could seriously potentially damage relationships in the long term,” he said. — AFP

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