As Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National-Security Adviser Jake Sullivan prepare to meet their Chinese counterparts later today in Alaska for high-level talks, they’ve previewed tough discussions on everything from the South China Sea to the Uyghur concentration camps. Now, a new, thorny issue has emerged in the days leading up to their talks: the specter of hostage diplomacy, this time potentially targeting Americans.
Canada has already borne the brunt of China’s harassment of its citizens abroad. Two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, have been imprisoned in China for almost two years, in response to the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver.
The Chinese authorities’ harassment of Americans in China has started to take a similarly disturbing turn this week, though it hasn’t yet led to the outright detention of U.S. citizens. It follows an incident in which Chinese police officers assaulted an American journalist in September.
From a report in the Washington Post on Tuesday:
Nine students, including six Americans, who attend New York University in Shanghai were detained by Chinese police in two separate incidents on the same night last week, university personnel and U.S. officials told The Washington Post.
Two of the U.S. students were apprehended at a bar, according to a student and university faculty. One of them, a young man, was kicked in the head by authorities and the other, a woman, sustained bruising as police in plainclothes attempted to apprehend her, the student said.
Seven students in a separate group, which included citizens of the United States, Finland, Morocco and Malaysia, were taken into custody from a house where they gathered for a birthday party, said students and university personnel. The students tested negative for drug use and were released between 11 and 16 hours later, they added.
The Post story goes on to explain that NYU Shanghai believes they were detained in relation to potential drug activity, but also reports this:
The two Americans have parents who work for the Defense Department, people familiar with the incident said.
It is not uncommon for Chinese police to show up at private residences while carrying out counternarcotics operations, but appearing in plainclothes is unusual, as is violence in the absence of a significant escalation.
It’s very difficult not to view these incidents as intended to send a message ahead of today’s talks, which will take place in Anchorage. And it’s no coincidence that Kovrig and Spavor are going on trial, starting the day after these talks.
The American delegation will need to make clear that Washington won’t be cowed by hostage-diplomacy threats, and that the U.S. government will respond to the Communist Party’s bullying with all of the tools at its disposal.