China ig­nor­ing diplo­matic im­mu­nity by de­tain­ing Kovrig, Trudeau ar­gues

The Globe and Mail (Ottawa/Quebec Edition) - - NEWS - DANIEL LEBLANC STEVEN CHASE

The Cana­dian gov­ern­ment is now ac­cus­ing China of ig­nor­ing the prin­ci­ple of diplo­matic im­mu­nity with the on­go­ing de­ten­tion of Michael Kovrig, a for­mer diplo­mat who is cur­rently on leave from his po­si­tion at Global Af­fairs Canada.

Af­ter Mr. Kovrig’s de­ten­tion last month, fed­eral of­fi­cials said on a num­ber of oc­ca­sions that he was no longer ben­e­fit­ing from diplo­matic im­mu­nity, given that he was not cur­rently ac­cred­ited to an em­bassy. On Fri­day, how­ever, Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau de­nounced China for ig­nor­ing in­ter­na­tional rules that gov­ern the treat­ment of for­eign diploma ts. Un­der the prin­ci­ple of diplo­matic im­mu­nity, for­eign diplo­mats can be ex­pelled from their host coun­try, but do not face the threat of pros­e­cu­tion, ex­cept in lim­ited cir­cum­stances.

Guy Saint-Jac­ques, Canada’s for­mer am­bas­sador to China, said Fri­day he is cer­tain Mr. Kovrig does not have diplo­matic im­mu­nity and he be­lieves the Prime Min­is­ter may have mis­spoke. “It’s clear when you are on leave with­out pay you have to travel with your or­di­nary blue pass­port. The Chi­nese know this. Be­cause if he had been trav­el­ling with his diplo­matic pass­port … they would not have been able to ar­rest him.

“They would have rec­og­nized right away they were con­tra­ven­ing the Vi­enna Con­ven­tion on Diplo­matic Re­la­tions if they did so.”

Mr. Trudeau has been lead­ing an in­ter­na­tional cam­paign to ob­tain the lib­er­a­tion of Mr. Kovrig and busi­ness­man Michael Spa­vor, who were both ar­rested in China on na­tional-se­cu­rity grounds on Dec. 10. “Un­for­tu­nately, in China, they have cho­sen to act to de­tain two Cana­di­ans in an ar­bi­trary mat­ter,” Mr. Trudeau said dur­ing a news con­fer­ence in Regina. “In one case, they have re­fused to ac­cept the prin­ci­ple of diplo­matic im­mu­nity, which is wor­ry­ing. We will con­tinue to work with Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties and our al­lies around the world to re­in­force the im­por­tance of ju­di­cial in­de­pen­dence and the rule of law.”

The Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice de­clined af­ter­ward to ex­plain why the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment now feels that Mr. Kovrig should en­joy diplo­matic im­mu­nity. Mr. Kovrig is cur­rently em­ployed by the In­ter­na­tional Cri­sis Group; Mr. Spa­vor is an en­trepreneur who or­ga­nized travel to North Korea.

When asked to clar­ify Mr. Kovrig’s sta­tus, Global Af­fairs de­clined to com­ment, de­fer­ring to the Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice.

Mr. Trudeau’s com­ments came as he faces grow­ing pres­sure from the Con­ser­va­tive op­po­si­tion to in­ter­vene with Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping to seek the lib­er­a­tion of the two Cana­di­ans.

“Clearly, Justin Trudeau’s naive ap­proach to diplo­macy is not work­ing,” said Con­ser­va­tive MP Erin O’Toole.

Mr. Spa­vor and Mr. Kovrig were ar­rested in what ap­peared to be a tit-for-tat reprisal for Canada’s ar­rest of Huawei ex­ec­u­tive Meng Wanzhou. Ms. Meng, the daugh­ter of Huawei’s founder, was ar­rested on Dec. 1 at Van­cou­ver In­ter­na­tional Air­port at the re­quest of the United States, which wants her ex­tra­dited to the U.S. to face bank fraud charges re­lated to sanc­tions against Iran. Ms. Meng was re­leased on $10-mil­lion bail but can­not leave the Van­cou­ver area.

“We have ful­filled our obli­ga­tions in a clear, trans­par­ent and rig­or­ous way. She has re­ceived a pre­lim­i­nary hear­ing and she is at home, hav­ing re­ceived all of the ben­e­fits of the Cana­dian ju­di­ciary process ,” Mr. Trudeau said of Ms. Meng. Mr. Trudeau has been mar­shal ling in­ter­na­tional sup­port to put pres­sure on Bei­jing to free the two Cana­di­ans.

Euro­pean Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Don­ald Tusk tweeted on Thurs­day that the Euro­pean Union “calls for the re­lease of the Cana­dian cit­i­zens in China.” Bri­tain, Ger­many, France and Aus­tralia have also called for the im­me­di­ate re­lease of the Cana­di­ans.

On Mon­day evening, the Prime Min­is­ter spoke with his Ja­panese coun­ter­part, Shinzo Abe, and both lead­ers “re­it­er­ated the im­por­tance of re­spect­ing and ad­her­ing to jus­tice and the rule of law,” the Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice said.

U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has also com­mit­ted to push­ing Bei­jing to free Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spa­vor.

Un­der the prin­ci­ple of diplo­matic im­mu­nity, for­eign diplo­mats ... do not face the threat of pros­e­cu­tion, ex­cept in lim­ited cir­cum­stances.

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