Tag Archives: diplomacy

The Detention of the Two Michaels: A Story on China’s Human Rights Abuses

By: Peter Xavier Rossetti

Michael Korvig and Michael Spavor, known as the “two Michaels,” returned to Canada after spending over 1000 days detained in China. Their collective story is a harrowing example of China’s human rights violations and willingness to use people as a means for geopolitical gain. Now that they are home and present in the minds of Canadians and others, it is essential to report their treatment while in China accurately. Background information is necessary to understand the severity of the tribulation the two Michaels faced.

In early December of 2018, a woman named Meng Wanzhou was about to make a layover stop in Canada while flying to Mexico (Corera, 2020). Nothing, in particular, made this stopover in Vancouver strange, but Wanzhou was no ordinary tourist. Wanzhou is the chief financial officer of Huawei, and the United States wanted her on charges of bank and wire fraud that helped her company circumnavigate the US sanction on Iran (Karphal, 2020). As soon as she landed in Vancouver, Canadian officials arrested her and prepared her extradition case to the States. Several days later, Michael Spavor and Michael Korvig were detained in China.

Korvig, a former diplomat, and Spavor, a businessman, were convicted of vague espionage and spying charges, with the latter being sentenced to 11 years in prison by Chinese courts (Aziz, 2021). Many people speculated that the arrests were an act of retaliation by the Chinese government after the arrest of Wanzhou in Canada. Despite Canadian and American attempts to persuade China into dropping the charges, the two men would go on to spend nearly three years of their lives detained. The conditions of their detention were brutal, and they highlight the gross and arbitrary imprisonment tactics employed by the Chinese government.

Korvig and Spavor spent most of their imprisonment completely cut-off from the outside world. Chinese officials allowed the two men to make only a handful of phone calls throughout their captivity while also barring Canadian diplomats from reaching them (Coletta, 2021). To put into perspective how isolated they were, Korvig and Spavor appeared to be missing common knowledge about current international events. For example, after a long-overdue meeting with a consular in October of 2020, Korvig was finally informed that the pandemic had spread across the world, resulting in the death of millions (Hopper, 2021). Deprived of basic information pertaining to current events, Korvig and Spavor spent their days detached and unaware of what was happening in the outside world.

Isolation was not the only thing the two Michaels had to cope with during their detainment, as the actual physical conditions of the prison cells were inhumane. Reports determined that both men were forced to live in tiny cells filled with other prisoners and were denied the ability to leave (Hopper, 2021). Unlike Western prisons, these detainment centres contain no communal spaces such as exercise yards or dining halls. Besides the confined, brutal living conditions, the two Micheals were also subject to psychological torment. The bright lighting of the cell was kept on during all hours of the day, allowing for little rest, and the two were treated to daily integrations by Chinese authorities (Nossal, 2021). The Chinese government’s mental and emotional abuses inflicted on Korvig and Spavor are unspeakable.

The arbitrary conditions that the Korvig and Spavor were subject to are gross inflictions on human rights. It has been a massive relief to have both men return home. However, it is important to acknowledge that these isolation conditions, physical confinement, and psychological abuse are not unique to the two Michaels. China has been detaining people in this brutal fashion long before the Korvig and Spavor were sentenced to prison there. The Chinese government will continue to act in such a manner until they face a firm international stance. No human being should be subject to such treatment.


Aziz, Saba. “ ‘Free at last’: Canadian Michael Korvig, wife speak about emotional return from China.” Global News, 26 Sep. 2021,


Coletta, Amanda. “Canada’s ‘two Michaels’ back home after more than 1,000 days imprisoned in China as Huawei’s Meng cuts deal with U.S.” The Washington Post, 25 Sep. 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/09/24/canada-two-michaels-china-huawei/

Corera, Gordon. “Meng Wanzhou: Questions over Huawei executive’s arrest as legal battle continues.” BBC, 31 Oct. 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-54756044

Hopper, Tristin. “No sunlight, a hole for a toilet: What two years in Chinese detention has been like for the two Michaels.” National Post, 19 Mar. 2021, https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/no-sunlight-a-hole-for-a-toilet-what-two-years-in-c hinese-detention-has-been-like-for-the-two-michaels

Karphal, Arjun. “The extradition trial of Huawei’s CFO starts this month – here’s what to watch.” CNBC, 9 Jan. 2020, https://www.cnbc.com/2020/01/10/huawei-cfo-meng-wanzhou-extradition-trial-explained. html

Nossal, Kim Richard. “Wrong place, wrong citizenship: The tribulations of the Two Michaels.” The Interpreter, 19 Jan. 2021, https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/wrong-place-wrong-citizenship-tribulations-t wo-michaels

Image Attribution: Michael Korvig and Michael Spavor after landing in Calgary and being greeted by Prime
Minister Justin Trudeau (image from The Globe and Mail)

Crisis in Myanmar

By: Penelope Giesen

Myanmar Continues its fight against oppression

On February 1, 2021, there was a military coup in Myanmar, which a country in southeastern Asia, bordering India, China, Thailand, and Laos. This coup halted the nation’s first quasi-democracy that had previously held power since 2015, led by Aung Sung Suki. Aung Sung Suki is widely considered to be a controversial figurehead who successfully transformed Myanmar into a democracy after a long history of military dictatorship, yet whose leadership has been marred by ethnic violence and potential unethical alliances with the military now in power.

Since the coup, there has been widespread civil disobedience against the oppressive policies put in place by the military government in power, the Tatmadaw. These immediate policies included seizing control of infrastructure, suspending international and national flights, stopping internet access in most major cities, and closing the stock market and major banks. All of these measures were justified under claims of a “constitutional” state of emergency declared by the military. Though these protests started peacefully, they quickly turned violent and sparked ruthless retaliation by the government. On February 20, 2021, two unarmed protesters were killed, including a 16-year-old boy, prompting millions to go on strike two days later. The retaliations have escalated with the military, killing 600 and maiming, injuring, and torturing thousands more on March 27, 2021. This incredible violence inspired an armed resistance by the Burmese people, who call themselves the People’s National Defense, and they engage in jungle gorilla warfare against the Tatmadaw. Despite facing rampant food insecurity and constant threat from the Tatmadaw, the People’s National Defense is determined to fight for liberties and the freedom that had once existed. Yet this army is underfunded, and many have been pushed up into the remote hills where they must combat hunger, poisonous snakes, and dengue along with their families when the Tatmadaw systematically burns villages that are home to these resistance fighters. Despite these challenges, the horrific conditions don’t diminish the determination of the resistance, which has been further galvanized by their shadow government calling for a revolution by armed insurrection on September 7, 2021. Many of the Burmese people have a complicated relationship with the armed resistance in support of their former democratic government given the atrocities inflicted upon ethnic groups in the nation such as the Rohingya Muslims. In a state of disorder and terror, it is hard to distinguish what is being fought for, but some believe that this fight for liberty is a turning point for the Burmese people as it is uniting all Burmese people in a fight for liberation. Thet Swe Win, a Burmese human rights activist, notes the Tatwondow’s terrorization of Burmese people in villages and urban areas has “opened people’s eyes to the rights abuses other ethnic groups have long been facing”. As a result, people have started to broaden their horizons for the liberty they are fighting for.

Humanitarian crisis:
This armed coup and ensuing resistance had caused the death of at least 1180 armed resistors and civilians, the destruction of innumerable villages and homes, and displacement of at least 176,000 people internally with an additional 22,000 to other countries. The Tatmadaw has been documented using tactics against Myanmar’s civilian population such as burning villages, looting properties, torture, and mass arrests. This is in addition to the hundreds of thousands of Burmese refugees such as the Rohingya Muslims that have fled ethnic terror for decades. Many of these refugees flee with their families to India, which is an arduous journey that involves spending days in the woods without food or water and having to cross the Tiau River that separates the nations. And there are growing concerns that neighboring countries such as Thailand will begin to turn away refugees at the border.

What can be done to help?
The humanitarian crisis in Myanmar is multifaceted and severe. Civilians, members of the rebel army, and refugees all are in dire need of support. There are many approaches that could be taken to support these groups, including: donations to various humanitarian aid organizations, advocacy to local representatives and the federal government of increased sanctions, and blockades, and establishing a “no-fly zone” over Myanmar. Some reliable organizations that could be donated to include: The International Rescue Committee (which has been supporting Myanmar since 2008), Save the Children (which supports children in dangerous situations around the world and specifically provides support to children and families in Myanmar that have been affected by the deadly violence occurring). In addition, donations to the Civil Disobedience Movement will provide support to Burmese people participating in protests against their authoritarian government. In addition, support to the Burmese people could include contacting your country’s relevant diplomatic and government representatives to ask for increased sanctions on Myanmar in solidarity with the protestors trying to weaken and destabilize the military in control. Another method of support could involve exerting pressure on our government to support the Secretary General’s special envoy on Myanmar, per Christine Schraner Burgener’s request in her speech to the UN press conference on October 21, 2021. Her request noted that international leadership not accept the Tatmadaw as a legitimate established government as they are responsible for the majority of the instability and violence in the nation.

1) Goldman, Russell. “Myanmar’s Coup and Violence, Explained.” The New York Times, The New
York Times, 1 Feb. 2021,
2) Wee, Sui-lee. “Thousands Flee Myanmar for India amid Fears of a Growing Refugee Crisis.”
The New York Times, The New York Times, 19 Oct. 2021,
3) Martin, Michael F. “Myanmar’s Opposition Wants U.S. Intervention. Here Are Some Options.”
Foreign Policy, 24 May 2021,
4) Win, Thet Swe. “The Coup United the People of Myanmar against Oppression.” Opinions | Al
Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 1 Oct. 2021,
5) UNHCR Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific (RBAP). “Myanmar Emergency – UNHCR
Regional Update – 1 September 2021.” UNHCR Operational Data Portal (ODP), UNHCR , 1
Sept. 2021,
6) Snodgrass, Erin. “5 Ways to Help Anti-Coup Protesters on the Ground in Myanmar Right
Now.” Insider, Insider, 11 Apr. 2021,
7)Desk, News. “Myanmar Situation Deteriorating – United Nations Press Conference (21
October 2021).” The Global Herald, The Global Herald , 21 Oct. 2021,
Image Source: New York Times October 26, 2021