Diplomacy And The Release Of Michael Kovrig – OpEd


The trials of Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig have come and gone without a verdict or even knowledge of the trial proceedings. Was evidence produced? How and what was produced, if anything at all? Meanwhile, ex-Canadian Ambassadors look on, journalists contemplate writing stories without news and politicians mumble about rule of law and habeus corpus. I am afraid that the news will get worse before it gets better.

Yet, on the diplomatic front, events are proceeding. At the Canadian Embassy, diplomat Jim Nichols has put together a group of interested missions, and their representatives, to walk with him and protest against the blatantly unfair treatment being meted out to the Canadians by the Chinese Communist government of Beijing.

We are learning that diplomacy is not just a technique (writing and presenting notes to foreign governments). There is ‘people to people’ diplomacy, and it is here that we can aspire to act to release the two Michaels. The elites, especially in government and diplomacy, often seek to hide this key aspect of every diplomatic relationship in international affairs. After all, who wants the ‘people’ interfering with experienced politicians and diplomats? One may ask whether ‘experience’ is just another word for conformism and indolent conservativism. So far, ‘experience’ has not helped free the two Michaels.

People to people diplomacy encompasses exchanges of people and professionals including trade unionists, university professors, doctors, nurses, journalists, judges and others. It is the quintessential nature of civil society and how it influences diplomatic relations between countries. How else do you think China built its diplomatic power and influence in open door countries like Canada? To help release the Michaels, we now need to emphasize people to people diplomacy.

Here are a few measures to start with:

1. Building on the recent actions of Canadian diplomats in Beijing, Ottawa needs to instruct its missions abroad to exclude Chinese diplomats from all diplomatic receptions and events.

2. Canada-based foreign diplomats need to be called in by our Foreign Minister to explain the first Canadian action and to encourage their capitals to instruct their missions abroad to undertake the same exclusionary measure or a form thereof.

3. In Canada, without exception, all Chinese post-graduate student nationals materially supported by the Chinese government need to expelled from the country in thirty days.

4. Ottawa should undertake a program of public awareness by financing key Hong Kong, Uyghur and Tibetan dissidents to give public lectures in educational institutions, churches and Chambers of Commerce across the country.

It is time to up the ante on the issue of the two Michaels. These people to people diplomatic measures will hurt the Chinese Communist regime in Beijing. Understanding diplomacy in narrow almost perfunctory terms plays into Beijing’s hands and their cynical leaders. These people to people diplomatic measures do the opposite.

The measures could create the élan necessary by a) internationalizing the situation in a most visible way and b) raising the visibility of inhuman practices now being employed by the Chinese Communist regime.

There will be opponents of this view including a surprising number of senior diplomats and politicians. They might say: people have nothing to do with diplomacy, people should not have any say in matters of state and international affairs since they lack necessary experience, the peoples’ voice should be heard only at election time, Beijing may get angry with us and punish the two Michaels further, or the matter is too complicated and best to wait until President Biden can solve it.

I guess this must have been the gossip in the fall of 1938 about the Munich agreement. Defeatism, fear, indolence and division.

Beijing is counting on Canada and Canadians to remain fearful and believe the naysayers in order to continue their people to people diplomacy. We are at the crossroads now, at a defining moment, when all of us have to stand up to be counted.

I know Michael Kovrig, and I know that he is undertaking his herculean task under very difficult conditions. He has us, and our national pride, on his shoulders.

We need to speak now.

Bruce Mabley

Dr. Bruce Mabley is a former Canadian diplomat having served in the Middle East, and is the director of the Mackenzie-Papineau think tank in Montreal.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *