Can China Justify the Arrest of ex-Diplomat Michael Kovrig?

Can China Justify the Arrest of ex-Diplomat Michael Kovrig?
Michael Kovrig, a former Canadian diplomat who has been detained by China, in a file photo during an interview in Hong Kong on March 28, 2018. (AP Photo)
Heng He

The spokesman of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not directly answer questions about the arrest of former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig at a press conference earlier this month. Spokesman Lu Kangin merely said that Kovrig’s employer—the International Crisis Group (ICG)—was not registered in China as a non-governmental organization (NGO) and Kovrig could have broken Chinese law.

Kovrig, a senior adviser of the think-tank ICG, was detained after police in Canada arrested Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of China’s Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, on Dec. 1 at the request of U.S. authorities. According to Reuters, state-run Beijing News reported on Dec. 12: “Canadian citizen Michael John Kovrig was on Dec. 10 investigated in accordance with the law by the Beijing State Security Bureau on suspicion of engaging in activities that harm China’s state security.”

Beijing claims the ICG violated foreign NGO law—the “Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Administration of Activities of Overseas Nongovernmental Organizations in the Mainland of China”—which took effect in January 2017, part of new national security measures introduced under Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

It is commonly known that it is very difficult for a NGO to register in China. Those that are already publicly registered are owned by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)—such as All-China Women’s Federation, the China Disabled Persons’ Federation, the China Society for Human Rights Studies (CSHRS), Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (CPAFFC), and the China Anti-Cult Association (CACA) which uses the name “Care Association” as a cover-up.

The All-China Women’s Federation is one of the three peripheral organizations of the CCP, and the other two are trade unions and the Communist Youth League. The main responsibility of the CSHRS is to oppress human rights groups—it joined the United Nations Human Rights Council as a front for the CCP. The CPAFFC is a government agency led by the CCP to engage in civil diplomacy in the name of the non-governmental organization. As for the Care Association, it has another name—the China Anti-Cult Association (CACA)—which the CCP is unwilling to use directly. Established in November 2000, the CACA assists in persecuting adherents of the spiritual practice Falun Gong. It is led by the 610 Office, the CCP’s secret police force (created in 1999 to carry out the persecution of Falun Gong).

China’ NGO law requires foreign NGOs to register with the Ministry of Public Security, making it more difficult for them to operate in China. According to the 2017 data, there were about 1,000 international NGOs in China. Adding to short-term projects, there were more than 7,000. But only 139 were registered.

Many foreign NGOs operate without registering, which is regarded as violating the law. The Chinese Communist regime does not usually pay close attention to “violating the law”—they disregard rule of law and punish anyone as they see fit. The CCP has used the excuse that the ICG violated China’s foreign NGO law to justify the detainment of Kovrig and another Canadian—businessman Michael Spavor.

However, Kovrig and the ICG may not have violated the law. The ICG said it closed its Beijing branch in December 2016 because it could not register. Kovrig was a Canadian diplomat in China from 2014 to 2016. Then in 2017, he joined the ICG in Hong Kong where it was legal.

The ICG is not an isolated case. In 1996, the Falun Gong Research Association of China—founded by adherents of Falun Gong practitioners— applied for registration with other government organizations but it dissolved because it could not register. However, when the CCP began the persecution of Falun Gong in July 1999, they claimed the Falun Gong Research Association of China violated the law because it was not registered.

The ICG is not considered a hostile force for the CCP. In addition to being recognized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2007 when it entered China, it has been in contact with the CCP’s various sectors at different levels. Kovrig himself has visited Beijing frequently, met with CCP officials, and been invited to speak at meetings. On the official website of the International Liaison Department (of the Communist Party of China), there were photos of Kovrig and its deputy director, Guo Yezhou, during a meeting in August this year—but the photos were recently taken down from the website.

The International Liaison Department is one of the four agencies under the Central Committee of the CCP in charge of conducting its foreign relations with other political parties. It only has contact with foreign political parties that the CCP considers “friendly” or “similar” to it. Four months ago, it considered the ICG and Kovrig as “friends”—they were not seen as engaging in any “illegal” activities in China, let alone “endangering state security.” And the ICG “not being registered” (as an NGO in China) has never been a problem until Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Canada at the request of U.S. authorities.

Another reason for the CCP’s arrest of Kovrig is that China does not have an independent judiciary since the establishment of the CCP regime in 1949. Even after the so-called rule of law was established after the end of the Cultural Revolution, almost all of the highly regarded cases that people knew were driven by political factors rather than the rule of law. The persecution of Falun Gong has lasted for more than 19 years and from the very beginning, it was politically motivated. So far, no legal basis has been found.

The persecution of activists and human rights lawyers began in 2015. The methods used by the CCP to persecute dissidents include forcing them to disappear, public confessions (aired over state media), using drugs, torture, and kidnapping of family members—all have non-legal basis.

Peter Humphrey, a British national, was sentenced after his “confession” which was broadcast by state television. It was not that he violated Chinese law. Instead, he was imprisoned for undermining the interests of a powerful group with ties to the CCP. Humphrey was appointed by the Anglo-American pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline to investigate a corruption case of its Shanghai branch in 2013.
The establishment of the CCP’s organizational structure also ensures that China’s judicial system is not independent. The management of the judicial system, including the Ministry of Public Security, the Supreme Court, the Supreme Properatorate, the Ministry of Justice, falls under the Central Political and Legal Affairs Committee (PLAC). The PLAC is led by the “Rule of Law Leadership Group”—created to consolidate the CCP’s governance of the judicial system. All parts of the judicial system, including lawyers, are led by the Communist Party, so where will there be independent justice?
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Heng He is a commentator on Sound of Hope Radio, China analyst on NTD's "Focus Talk," and a writer for The Epoch Times.
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