A year ago when life was more or less normal, no one could imagine that we would be taking such delight in simple pleasures like going outside without a mask, chatting in a bar with friends or having a normal face-to-face meeting with colleagues. 

Compared with much of the Western world, Hong Kong actually has it good. In many developed countries, restaurants, hair salons and the like are closed, some permanently. Even simple acts like stepping onto an elevator or lining up at the supermarket check-out are controlled by taped markers on the floor showing where to stand to maintain social distancing.

Tai O. File photo: Tom Grundy.

As much as these inconveniences have been annoying, we know it’s been for our own good to cooperate. And also, because the virus is seen as something beyond anyone’s control, sometimes referred to as an “act of God”, most of the population around the world has rolled with the punches.

We shrug because realistically, unlike inconveniences caused by human error where there is someone to blame, the pandemic is “just one of those things”.

With this backdrop, it is interesting to look at a recent milestone of an event that is anything but “one of those things”. An event of outrageous inconvenience for two individuals whose daily lives have been turned upside down, apparently through no fault of their own.

Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. File photo: Twitter.

I speak of the 500-day mark last week of the hostage-taking in China of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. To recap, the two Michaels were incarcerated for unspecified “activities jeopardizing Chinese security”.

Since December 2018, the two have been held in different Chinese prisons subject to lights on for 24 hours a day, and, at the outset, months of intensive interrogation. They have had no outside visitors apart from once a-month, 30-minute visits by Canadian consular officials, the most recent of which was in January this year.

Presently, a quarantine because of Covid 19 may have made visits even less frequent.

Typically, when government authorities incarcerate suspects, the word “hostage” is not used, but it’s entirely appropriate in this case. In December 2018, when Huawei executive, Meng Wanzhou, daughter of the company founder, was arrested in Vancouver after an extradition request from the United States government, the Chinese government stated there would be “severe repercussions” if she were not immediately released.

Following normal protocol between two friendly countries, Canada was prevented from releasing Wang by Canadian law, under which she had the right to present her case against the extradition request, which would take time.

Meng Wanzhou. File Photo: Apple Daily.

Keeping to their promise of severe repercussions, within a few days, Chinese authorities scooped up the two Michaels, who were living in China at the time, and put them behind bars, where for the past 500 days they have dined on watery congee. 

Meanwhile, Wang whiles away her time split between her two mansions in Vancouver free to roam the city with full access to lawyers under a system in which she is fully aware of the charges against her.

In essence, Beijing is playing fast and loose with a G7 country, Canada, by taking two of its citizens hostage, ignoring all sense of fair play, let alone international understandings of lawful behaviour. In fact, Canada and the two Michaels are just collateral damage, haplessly stuck between China and the US in a high-stakes game.  

File photo: Abdallahh, via Flickr.

In the meantime, the 500-day mark for the two comes at a chilling time for Hong Kong with the Central government in Beijing declaring that their representative, the Central Liason Office can supervise Hong Kong’s internal affairs in violation of the law, this time our Basic Law, promulgated by the CCP itself.

What is even more chilling, however, is that ominous ultimatum from Beijing of “severe repercussions”. Clearly, the CCP does not make idle threats and will do anything to achieve its goals including running roughshod over laws. Imagine what lengths they will go to when real trouble emerges in a territory they claim as their own.

Not just one of those things.

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Paul Stapleton

Paul Stapleton is a long-time resident of several countries in Asia, where he has been teaching and researching at various universities. He writes about environmental, social and educational issues. In his op-eds, Paul's goal is to shed some light on issues of interest as well as generate a bit of heat. Paul’s website is at Academic Proofreading Plus.