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Newsline: Case of detained Canadians in China raises concerns among diplomats

Mar. 19 will mark the 100th day since two Canadians detained in China have had a proper night’s sleep. Since their arrest last December, they are likely to have been kept largely in the dark about the charges against them – but the lights in their cells will have stayed on day and night. (https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy/article/3002222/china-based-diplomats-warn-case-detained-canadians-kovrig-and) But the detention of the former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig – held along with his fellow Canadian Michael Spavor on December 10 – has shocked other diplomats stationed in China, who have been exploring legal game plans to protect themselves should they ever find themselves in the same situation. “It’s a sword of Damocles hanging over all diplomats. We are very concerned. Everyone is talking about it,” said one diplomat working in Beijing, adding that many fear returning to China on anything other than a diplomatic passport in future. Despite attempts by Beijing to separate the case from Kovrig’s work with Canada’s foreign service, many diplomatic staff are worried they could one day face a similar predicament.

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Newsline: U.S. diplomat accuses China of using ‘pay-day loan diplomacy’

China’s is using “pay-day loan diplomacy” to exert influence in the Pacific, the new U.S. ambassador to Australia said on Mar. 13, comments that threaten to inflame regional tensions. Late last year U.S. Vice President Mike Pence accused China of ensnaring tiny island nations in foreign aid “debt traps”. New U.S. Ambassador to Australia Arthur Culvahouse said Pence’s criticism was not strong enough. “I would use stronger language – I would use payday loan diplomacy,” Culvahouse told reporters in Canberra after presenting his diplomatic credentials to Australia’s Governor-General. (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-china-pacific/china-using-pay-day-loan-diplomacy-in-the-pacific-u-s-diplomat-idUSKBN1QU0CG) “The money looks attractive and easy upfront, but you better read the fine print,” he said. Lenders of pay-day loans typically charge a higher interest rate. Speaking in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said China’s cooperation with Pacific island countries was good for both parties and broadly welcomed by these countries.

Newsline: Embassy Official Denied China Offered Money to Rohingya in Bangladesh

China has not offered Rohingya refugees money to repatriate to Myanmar, a Chinese Embassy attaché in Dhaka told BenarNews, after the news outlet reported that a delegation of officials from Beijing had promised refugee families up to U.S. $6,000 each if they returned to Rakhine state. The embassy official was asked to comment on a video posted online by a Rohingya NGO that showed Chinese delegates meeting with refugees in southeastern Bangladesh, and offering families money to return to their homeland. Bangladeshi officials and Rohingya leaders confirmed the meeting and the offer to BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service, on Tuesday. (https://www.rfa.org/english/news/myanmar/china-rohingya-03072019144056.html) “I didn’t see the video so I cannot say whether there’s Chinese official[s],” political attaché Vera Hu said in an email response to BenarNews. However, she clarified, “China never offers money to Rohingya people for them to go back.”

Newsline: Chinese Envoy Said to Offer Rohingya Money to Return to Myanmar

A Chinese government delegation met Rohingya Muslims in Bangladesh, promising each refugee family up to U.S. $6,000 if they returned to Rakhine state in Myanmar, a Bangladeshi official and refugee leaders said on Mar.5. Sun Gouxiang, China’s special envoy for Asian Affairs, met with 15 men and 14 women at the Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar on March 3, according to Syed Ullah, secretary-general of the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights (ARSPH), an NGO. “They asked us whether we would go back if they gave us five thousand to six thousand dollars,” Ullah told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service. “We rejected their proposal and asserted that we will in no way return if we are not given citizenship with Rohingya identity and our other demands are not met,” he said. (https://www.rfa.org/english/news/myanmar/china-rohingya-03052019163757.html)A Bangladeshi official who attended the meeting confirmed to BenarNews, on condition of anonymity, that the Chinese delegation had offered up to U.S. $6,000 to help the refugees rebuild their homes in Rakhine state. The Chinese embassy in Dhaka did not respond to a BenarNews email seeking comment. The United Nations estimates that some 730,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh at the height of a brutal crackdown launched by the Myanmar military in response to attacks by Rohingya insurgents on security posts in August 2017.

Newsline: China shuts Turkey consulate in wake of Uygur row

China has shut down its consulate in Turkey’s second biggest city after repeated criticism by the Islamic country of Beijing’s treatment of Uygur and other Muslims in its far western Xinjiang region. “China has decided to temporarily close the consulate in Izmir from February 28, 2019. All diplomatic and consular services of the Izmir consulate will be handled by the Chinese embassy [in Ankara],” according to a notice on the embassy’s WeChat social media account. (https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy/article/2188293/china-shuts-turkey-consulate-wake-uygur-row) The notice went on to say that the decision related solely to internal working arrangements and that work efficiency had been one of the factors taken into account. The shutdown of the Izmir consulate comes days after Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told a United Nations forum in Geneva that reports of human rights violations in Xinjiang were a cause for serious concern.

Newsline: Swedish foreign ministry investigates ambassador to China

Sweden’s ambassador to China is under internal investigation, the embassy said Thursday, after she set up meetings between the daughter of a detained Swedish publisher and two businessmen that appeared to have gone awry. Ambassador Anna Lindstedt returned to Stockholm on Wednesday to meet with officials from the foreign affairs ministry, the Swedish Embassy in Beijing said by phone. Lindstedt is not under criminal investigation. The embassy declined to give further details, but the ministry confirmed that Lindstedt’s departure was related to meetings she arranged between Angela Gui, the daughter of detained Swedish book publisher Gui Minhai, and the two businessmen. “The ambassador has acted incorrectly in the sense that the foreign ministry had no knowledge that the meetings took place,” spokeswoman Catherine Johnsson told The Associated Press (https://www.kentucky.com/news/business/article226252170.html). She said the internal investigation was aimed at getting “an overall picture of what has happened,” and that “as far as the action of the ambassador is concerned, we must wait for what the inquiry will come up with.”

Newsline: Backchannels to Beijing close as detentions raise fears among old China hands

Some of the West’s most experienced “China hands” plan to steer clear of the country as the detention of two Canadians in December raises concerns among former envoys about their safety. China’s detention of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in December – following Canada’s arrest of Sabrina Meng Wanzhou, Chinese tech giant Huawei’s chief financial officer – has been condemned by diplomats, especially US allies who speak of retaliation by Beijing. Despite Beijing’s denial that the arrests of Kovrig and Spavor were revenge, a Beijing-based Western diplomat said the detentions worried officials who were now reluctant to return to China and engage in informal diplomacy after postings when sometimes years-long professional relationships were built up with Chinese counterparts. “I would probably not want to come back to Beijing after my post,” said the diplomat, who did not want to be identified. For years, exchanges between businesses and former diplomats were often used as a backchannel to improve relations. With these avenues closed, policymaking that shapes ties between the two sides could become much tougher. Last week 116 scholars and 27 former diplomats from 19 countries released an open letter calling for the release of the two Canadians. The letter said the detention of Kovrig, a former diplomat, and Spavor, a businessman, prompted the signatories to “be more cautious about travelling and working in China and engaging our Chinese counterparts”. Some Western former diplomats are ready to suspend informal contacts with China.

https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy/article/2184465/backchannels-beijing-close-detentions-raise-fears-among-old