Fifteen leaders of foreign policy think tanks, advocacy organisations and academic institutions have issued a joint statement on Monday urging China to immediately release detained former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig.

Kovrig was arrested by authorities in Beijing last December for allegedly stealing “sensitive information,” according to the official state-run Xinhua news agency, citing unnamed authorities. Another Canadian, businessman Michael Spavor, was arrested in Dandong on the same day for supplying intelligence to Kovrig, Xinhua reported. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau voiced strong concern over accusations of espionage last Tuesday.

File photo: International Crisis Group.

The pair were apprehended shortly after top Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Vancouver, who is accused of violating the United States’ sanctions on Iran. Meng filed suit against Ottawa on Friday for breaching her constitutional rights for her arrest. The pattern of arrests is thought to be an escalation of a diplomatic tit for tat between Canada and China.

The joint statement was published by NGO International Crisis Group, of whom Kovrig is a senior advisor.

“Michael’s arrest has a chilling effect on all those who are committed to advance constructive U.S.-China relations,” the statement read. “We urge China to release Michael so that he can return to his family.”

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross (centre) announces 23 Criminal Charges Against Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei and its CFO Meng Wanzhou. Photo: Wikicommons.

Canadian consular officials last made contact with Kovrig on February 25 and Spavor the following day. Due to the provisions of the Canadian Privacy Act, no further information could be disclosed.

”The joint statement in full – click to view“

China’s rise is the most consequential geopolitical trend of our time and managing the U.S.-China relationship will remain the foremost diplomatic challenge for many years to come. Independent policy research institutions can play an affirmative role in the U.S.-China relationship, framing the major policy debates, providing analysis from a variety of perspectives and disciplines, and offering innovative ideas and initiatives to mitigate conflict and enhance cooperation.

At this moment of testing for the bilateral relationship – defined by growing differences and suspicions between our governments – we believe these efforts and the partnerships we’ve built with counterparts in China over many years are more important than ever. This is why we are particularly concerned by the detention of one of our colleagues, Michael Kovrig, a Canadian national working for the International Crisis Group. Michael’s arrest has a chilling effect on all those who are committed to advance constructive U.S.-China relations. We urge China to release Michael so that he can return to his family.

All signatories are signing in their personal capacity, affiliations are provided for reference only.

”Full list of signatories – click to view“

  • John R. Allen, General, United States Marine Corps (Retired)
  • Antony Blinken, Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement
  • Nicholas Burns, Professor, Harvard Kennedy School
  • Ambassador William J. Burns, former Deputy Secretary of State
  • Derek Chollet, Executive Vice President, The German Marshall Fund of the US
  • Richard Fontaine, Chief Executive Officer, Center for a New American Security
  • James Levinsohn, Director Jackson Institute for Global Affairs Yale University
  • Robert Malley, President and CEO of the International Crisis Group
  • Danielle Pletka, Vice President at the American Enterprise Institute
  • Daniel R. Porterfield, Ph.D., President and CEO of the Aspen Institute
  • Orville Schell, Arthur Ross Director, Center on US-China Relations, Asia Society
  • Ambassador Josette Sheeran
  • Anne-Marie Slaughter, Bert G. Kerstetter ’66 University Professor Emerita of Politics and International Affairs, Princeton University
  • Neera Tanden, President, Center for American Progress
  • Kenneth Weinstein, President & CEO, Hudson Institute

“We are extremely grateful and heartened by the support shown by the prominent signatories from the research community and by the fact that they have come together as one on this issue,” said Robert Malley, President and CEO of Crisis Group. “Many members of that community wish to constructively engage with China. Michael’s arbitrary detention can only scare them away.”

Jennifer Creery

Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.