Politics

Arrests fuel anxieties among China Canadian expats

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 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 appears 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 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 December 10 and accused of engaging in

activities that endanger China's national security.

Kovrig is a senior advisor 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 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 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.

Ottawa and Washington on Friday stepped up pressure on Beijing and called

for the immediate release of Kovrig and Spavor.

-Collateral damage-

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 told AFP, 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

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.

Despite the volume of business between Canada and China, people might

start wondering whether or not they'd be targeted and consider a long

Christmas holiday, he added.

-'China's way'-

The fallout from the arrests could have implications beyond the immediate

Canadian expat community, including researchers who visit China.

On Thursday, representatives of six Berlin-based institutions, which

included the European Council for Foreign Relations and the German Marshall

Fund, expressed concern about the spate of Canadians detained.

Developments such as these increase uncertainty and distrust among foreign

scholars who regularly conduct research within China, as they fear for their

safety, the joint statement said.

This will clearly undermine efforts to better understand developments in

China.

Yet some feel there is no need to overreact, calling this China's way of

dealing with things.

I'm not worried about this on a day-to-day basis and I certainly won't

change my daily activities because of a few people who have been detained,

financial analyst Scott Laprise told AFP.

There's always a sense at the back of my mind that something could happen,

but that's a part of living in China.

The Canadian embassy and the Canadian China Business Council did not

respond to AFP requests for comment.

Source: Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS)