Canada’s embassy in Beijing has deleted a tweet that appeared to offer lighthearted advice about avoiding imprisonment in China, 10 months after the arrests of two Canadians sparked a diplomatic crisis between the two countries.
“Remember that you are subject to local laws when you travel. Nobody wants prison to factor into their vacation plans. #NoRoomService,” said the tweet, which was posted late on Oct. 9 (Beijing time) on the official Twitter account of the Canadian mission to China – just more than a month after the appointment of a new ambassador to Beijing. Global Affairs Canada spokeswoman Angela Savard said it had been sent “without proper consultation or approval” and used “extremely inappropriate” language.
The tweet angered Canadians who saw it as an irresponsible jab at Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, two Canadians detained in China on Dec. 10, 2018, just days after the arrest in Vancouver of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou. In the early months of their detention, they were interrogated for up to eight hours a day, kept in conditions akin to solitary confinement, in rooms with 24-hour lighting, and denied access to a lawyer or family – treatment that some human-rights groups have likened to torture.
Both men are now being held in more prison-like facilities. Authorities initially seized Mr. Kovrig’s eyeglasses when he was transferred to that facility because they contained metal – although they were quickly replaced with glasses with a plastic frame.
“When I see this tweet I feel like the Canadian government is mocking Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor,” said Barrett Bingley, a Canadian who works in media and research in Hong Kong.
“As if it’s their fault they are being held in Chinese detention. From a government that is supposed to be defending them and supporting their right to justice, this is unconscionable, particularly on the 10-month anniversary.”
The tweet was deleted soon after The Globe and Mail sent a request for comment to Global Affairs Canada.
“Going forward, communications from the Embassy’s social media accounts will be subject to a more stringent approvals process,” Ms. Savard said in an e-mailed statement.
The #NoRoomService tweet comes shortly after the arrival in Beijing of new Canadian ambassador Dominic Barton, who previously said he is a “bull on China” and who led consultancy McKinsey & Company, often working with governments in China and state-owned companies.
The Canadian government has issued multiple travel advisories about China since the arrests of the two Canadians, which Ottawa has called “arbitrary” and critics have likened to “hostage diplomacy.”
Those advisories strike a significantly more serious tone than the embassy tweet.
“Exercise a high degree of caution in China due to the risk of arbitrary enforcement of local laws,” the government currently warns. It also says “Chinese authorities may place an exit ban on an individual to prevent them from leaving the country. An exit ban can relate to investigations into an individual, their family or an employer, and in criminal and civil matters, including business disputes.”
The Canadian embassy in Beijing has worked to build global opposition to China over the detention of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor, helping to marshal statements of support from other countries. Canada’s diplomats have decried Chinese practices at international forums such as the United Nations Human Rights Council.
The embassy has also signed, and in some cases led the writing of, a series of joint letters calling for China to end its inhumane judicial practices and explain its treatment of Muslims in its northwestern Xinjiang region, where authorities have built a sprawling network of detention centres for political indoctrination and skills training.
Warning that travellers to China “are subject to local laws” misses the point, said Jérôme Beaugrand-Champagne, a Canadian lawyer with two decades of experience in China.
In China, imprisonment can be "purely political,” he said. “We all now know that if we get arrested in China our government has zero leverage to help out.”
He added that the tweet “failed to mention that Canadians won’t have the same five-star treatment as Meng Wenzhou once detained,” a reference to her house arrest in one of her Vancouver mansions.
“Clearly people at [Global Affairs Canada] don’t want to offend China any more.”
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