Sun, Dec 23, 2018 - Page 4 News List

Canadians in China brace for worst after third arrest

AFP, 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 had arrested Canadian Sarah McIver for “working illegally” in the country, following the detention of two other Canadians on national security grounds.

Canadian authorities said that the latest detention appears to be a routine visa case.

However, 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 that 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 Shanghai-based Ricky Ng-Adam, founder of CoderBunker, a community of software developers.

“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 Monday last week and accused of engaging in activities that “endanger China’s national security.”

Kovrig is a senior advisor at the International Crisis Group, while Spavor facilitates trips to North Korea, including visits by former US National Basketball Association star Dennis Rodman.

ALthough 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 (孟晚舟), chief financial officer at Chinese telecom giant Huawei Technologies and daughter of its founder.

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

“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 that 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 alleged sanctions-breaking business dealings with Iran.

Ottawa and Washington on Friday stepped up pressure on Beijing and called for the immediate release of Kovrig and Spavor.

Observers said that Canada is increasingly looking like collateral damage in the simmering US-China trade dispute, 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 said.

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

The fallout from the arrests could have implications beyond the immediate Canadian expat community, including for researchers who visit China.

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