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A person holds a sign with photographs of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who have been detained in China since December, 2018, as people gather for a rally in Vancouver, Aug. 16, 2020.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

After more than two years locked in Chinese prison cells, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig are being put on trial. This is Xi Jinping’s cruel lesson in “win-win” foreign policy.

Let’s all take note.

On Thursday, the day before Mr. Spavor was set to go trial, China’s ambassador to Canada, Cong Peiwu, submitted an op-ed to The Globe and Mail, and a message to this country.

Two Michaels held in China: Trials for Spavor, Kovrig to be conducted in secret

Trial in China for Michael Spavor to start Friday; Kovrig’s to begin Monday

It argued that China’s economy is growing quickly and inexorably, and Canada can allow its companies to “board the fast train” or let tense political ties get in the way. He urged Canadians to choose “win-win” co-operation.

The timing was no coincidence. The ambassador’s message was tied to the trials of the two Canadians. Its essence is simple: if Canadians don’t choose “win-win” with China, they will lose. Choose the golden goose, or see Canadians languish in Chinese jails.

“Win-win” isn’t the ambassador’s phrase. It is one that China’s President, Mr. Xi, uses regularly as he promotes the idea that the world will win by co-operating with a rising China, pointing to its belt-and-road economic-development initiative, or access to its market. The message: Co-operate with China and both sides win.

The catch is that both sides don’t win the same way. Canada can gain economically from hitching its wagon to China’s growing economy, but China gets to dictate rules. Ottawa must not apply laws in ways that displease Beijing. Australia has been told it can have strong economic ties if it does not criticize China.

That’s where the detentions of Mr. Spavor and Mr. Kovrig come in. They aren’t deviations from Mr. Xi’s win-win policy. They are essential features of it. It’s to show countries such as Canada that if they don’t choose China’s win-win, Beijing will exact a loss.

The two were arrested nine days after Canadian authorities arrested Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on Dec. 1, 2018, at the request of U.S. authorities who are seeking her extradition. Canadian officials who tried to speak to Chinese officials about the release of the two Michaels in the early days of their detention were rebuffed with signals that the issue was in the hands of Mr. Xi himself.

For more than 800 days, they were not put on trial. Guy Saint-Jacques, Canada’s ambassador to China from 2012 to 2016, says he thinks that was because China wanted to negotiate the release of Ms. Meng.

Now they are being put on trial just as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken begins meetings with Chinese foreign minister and state councillor Wang Yi and Communist Party foreign-policy chief Yang Jiechi. The Americans, after all, could make a deal by dropping the request for Ms. Meng’s extradition or offering a plea bargain that does not include jail time.

The trials will be quick, Mr. Saint-Jacques said, perhaps one day or two. The accused won’t get to see the evidence presented against them on the grounds that it involves matters of national security. Canadian diplomats won’t get to attend the trial, on the same ostensible grounds.

“They are going through the motions, but everything is predetermined,” Mr. Saint-Jacques said. “They will receive a severe sentence.”

Mr. Xi is testing to see what concessions the United States is willing to offer, Mr. Saint-Jacques said. He added that Western countries need China’s economic market so badly they will make concessions.

That is obviously the point of dangling “win-win” the day before sham trials begin for two unfairly imprisoned Canadians. It frames the choice: You don’t have to let your citizens suffer; you can make concessions, and choose win-win. “They say you can win, but only if you follow our conditions. By doing what we say,” Mr. Saint-Jacques said.

With China’s win-win, there will always be a next time. The two Michaels might be facing a long time in prison unless U.S. prosecutors offer a plea bargain. The only way to deter future cases is to propose another option: lose-lose.

Mr. Saint-Jacques thinks the one thing China fears is Western nations banding together and agreeing to sanction China for hostage diplomacy or using economic threats to demand compliance. U.S. President Joe Biden has started talking about it.

The thing is, countries that take part might indeed miss the “fast train” of Chinese business. They might lose just for warning China it could lose, too. But in the long run, that’s better than win-win.

The trial for Michael Spavor took only two hours with no Canadian witnesses in the court and no information released by Chinese authorities. Jim Nickel, the Deputy Head of Mission at the Canadian embassy, was denied access and criticized the ongoing Chinese detention of Mr. Spavor and Michael Kovrig.

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