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Expert describes two Canadians detained in China as pawns in diplomatic chess game

FILE: Michael Spavor, director of Paektu Cultural Exchange (left) and Michael Kovrig (right) have been arrested in China. (AP/The Canadian Press)

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – If you want them to come home, stop grandstanding.

That’s the advice of a conflict resolution expert as Canada demands the release of two men detained in China, as part of suspected retaliation for the arrest of a Chinese telecom executive at the Vancouver airport last month.

Yves Tiberghien, a political science professor at UBC who specializes in Chinese politics, says the safe return of businessman Michael Spavor and former diplomat Michael Kovrig needs to be quietly negotiated.

“By a high-level, but low-key envoy. It doesn’t have to be public. The Chinese are furious at the Canadians and so, for that, quiet discussions would help.”

He adds an economic boycott would fail.

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“It’s not going to free the two Canadians. This is the second largest economy in the world. This is a key player in everything that we care about. You’re going to have to deal with the Chinese. Just like you have to deal with the Americans.”

Tiberghien also says December’s arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou surprised the Chinese government, so he’s cautioning against Canada doing anything to further escalate retaliation.

“When you play chess with someone, you have to understand what they’re thinking in order to kind of win in the game.”

He tells NEWS 1130 it’s highly unlikely Kovrig and Spavor will be allowed to come home before Meng is either extradited to the U.S. or allowed to return to China.

“Their fate is completely tied to the fate of Mrs. Meng. If Mrs. Meng was freed by the courts, you could expect the two Michaels to be freed quite quickly after that.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau continues to demand their immediate release.