The Return of the Michaels

By Randy Chang

Saturday, September 25th, 2021, Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor landed back home after more than 1000 days spent detained on Chinese soil.

Why were they there in the first place? In December of 2018, Meng Wanzhou (CFO of Huawei) was arrested in Vancouver on a request from the United States Justice Department. Wanzhou faced American charges for failure to disclose Huawei’s alleged illegal relationship with a subsidiary in Iran.

This move caught Canada in the crossfire between a complicated US-China relationship. Wanzhou is the daughter of Huawei’s founder, who in turn is believed to have a close personal relationship with the Chinese government (evidenced by the amount of state subsidies and support the company has received). China warned Canada against extraditing Wanzhou to the US, while the US remained adamant Wanzhou should be extradited. Essentially, Canada was forced to pick a side between their closest regional and economic ally, with which they share a border with, and a rising global power they sought to establish closer diplomatic ties with.

Canada’s decision was to keep Wanzhou detained on Canadian soil. A few days later, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor (a Canadian diplomat and businessman, respectively) were detained on Chinese soil on purportedly “unrelated” grounds. The move was called retaliatory by Canada.

The recent release of the two Michaels was directly related to new developments in the Meng Wanzhou case. The U.S government gave Wanzhou a deferred prosecution agreement, so long as she admits (without punishment) to a minor set of charges and follows the terms of the agreement. It’s now a dropped case. Canada has also dropped extradition proceedings, and Wanzhou was allowed to return to China with minimal to no punishment.

Many believe the agreement was almost certainly a concession to China’s “hostage diplomacy”, to guarantee the humanitarian release of the two Michaels. Whatever the case may be, the safe return of two Canadian citizens after a long stint of detainment on foreign soil has certainly brought relief to two uneasy families and the nation as a whole.