‘Urgently needed’: Australia joins Canadian-led coalition against hostage diplomacy

London: Australia has joined a Canadian-led global coalition, comprised of dozens of signatories, aimed at pressuring countries like China, Russia and Iran who arrest innocent citizens in acts of “hostage diplomacy.”

Canada’s foreign minister Marc Garneau said the declaration was “urgently needed.”

“Today countries from every continent stand together to tell people who are being arbitrarily detained abroad that they are not alone,” he said at a launch attended by human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, of London-based Doughty Street Chambers.

Canada’s foreign minister Marc Garneau.Credit:AP

“Using foreign nationals as bargaining chips to exercise leverage over another state is illegal, it is immoral and it needs to stop.

“Together we have to show that this practice will not be tolerated,” he said.

Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, said the coalition sent a clear message “that history remains on the side of human rights and the rule of law”.

“Human beings are not bargaining chips,” Blinken said.

Detained in China: Canadian nationals Michael Kovrig, left, and Michael Spavor. Credit:AP

“The United States wholeheartedly endorses this declaration and calls on all like-minded countries to work together to pressure the nations that engage in such detentions to put an end to this practice, to release those detained under such conditions, and to respect the rule of law and human rights.”

Britain’s foreign secretary Dominic Raab said the G7 – which Britain is hosting later this year, would devise “further mechanisms” to tackle the “indefensible” practise of arbitrarily detaining individuals as leverage over another government.

“The practice of arbitrarily detaining individuals as leverage over another government is indefensible and the UK will not tolerate it,” Raab said in a statement.

Canada’s relations with China has been as rocky and unpredictable as Australia’s relationship with the Asian nation. Credit:AP

Australia is one of 59 countries, including Britain and the United States, to join the network, amid the ongoing detention of Canada’s Two Michaels, which was widely viewed as China retaliating for the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver in 2018 on behalf of the United States.

Meng is charged with several fraud offences and is accused of circumventing US sanctions against Iran. She has been granted bail and allowed to live at her multi-million dollar mansion in Vancouver.

By contrast, Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat, and Michael Spavor, a businessman, have been detained in China for more than two years and have had no charges laid against them.

Earlier this month, Chinese authorities formally arrested Australian journalist and mother-of-two Cheng Lei, claiming she was supplying state secrets abroad.

Cheng had been detained since August last year. Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that Australian consular officials had last had access to Cheng, via video – link on January 26.

“We do expect basic standards of justice, of procedural fairness and humane treatment to be met,” Senator Payne told 2GB radio on Monday.

Charles Parton, who was friends with Kovrig in Beijing where they both served as diplomats, launched a global Christmas card campaign last year, to try and raise awareness of his friend’s plight in China.

He told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age that the coalition was “thoroughly welcomed” and “long overdue,” but cautioned that it would have little effect on Beijing.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken: “history remains on the side of human rights and the rule of law”.Credit:Bloomberg

“China will see the declaration as aimed at itself, not least because its official birthday comes one day after the Canadian hostage Michael Kovrig’s own birthday,” he said.

“It will not speed the release of the Two Michaels as the CCP will always put hard power before soft power,” he said.

Parton also noted that with 37 of the 59 signatories hailing from Europe, there were notable omissions from the list, including Russia, the bulk of the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and Asia.

“This indicates two prevailing winds: democracy and a willingness to put principles before a desire to stay in China’s good books,” he said.

A spokesman for the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, comprising more than 200 MPs from 20 democratic legislatures said the declaration was a good start but needed to have teeth if it was to be effective.

“Democratic countries must not only condemn these actions but ensure that such coercive diplomacy has tangible consequences,” a spokesperson said.

“Until then the Chinese government will continue to break the rules and norms of the international order with impunity.”

Separately in Brussels, the head of NATO called on member states to boost their defence spending, ahead of a meeting of defence ministers later this week and the leader’s summit later this year.

“China and Russia are at the forefront of an authoritarian pushback against the rules-based international order,” Jens Stoltenberg said.

“So we should enhance our political dialogue and practical cooperation who might want the partners to promote our values and protect our interests.”

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