Opinion | Canada's chickens come home to roost - the truth comes out about the 'Two Michaels'
By Tom Fowdy
Over the weekend the story emerged in Canada's press that Michael Spavor, a Canadian travel businessman who was imprisoned in China for several years, was seeking compensation from his government because there was in fact, truth to Beijing's claim that he had been engaged in activity that may be considered "espionage." He and a consultant for the International Crisis Group, Michael Korvig, were both arrested following Ottawa's incarceration of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou at the request of the United States.
The mainstream media depicted the story as "Hostage Diplomacy" by China and insisted that their arrests were politically motivated, coercive and baseless. This was a whole of media effort by journalists, think-tankers and politicians, which was used to dismantle Beijing's good relationship with Ottawa, manufacture consent for the anti-China agenda and of course legitimate the legal persecution of Huawei. It was long admitted that the prosecution of Meng herself was politically motivated, yet China was framed as the aggressor.
Now, it has been revealed that Spavor assisted Korvig in the gathering of information pertaining to the North Korean border which was passed to five eyes intelligence agencies. This ought to tell us some things about how Western think-tanks really function. Despite this, it is best to be cautious in what we define as a "spy", for just as I have stated in previous pieces, that definition is highly subjective and can broaden or narrow based on the political climate. It can range from obtaining clear-cut, confidential and classified information (real espionage), to simply research itself if needs be, hence why a British parliamentary researcher was wrongly scapegoated as a "Chinese spy" at the political behest of hawkish IPAC members, and never charged in the process.
As someone who knew Michael Spavor from my time in the North Korean travel industry, he wasn't really a "spy" at all. He was very much dedicated to his exchanges with the DPRK, had a very open mind and contrary to press hysteria, he didn't have insider information on Kim Jong Un he simply had the privilege of meeting him once. However, as someone who was in that industry, North Korean tours are not a lucrative business and this enterprise started to go downhill from 2017 as tensions increased, Otto Warmbier's fate was revealed to the world and then the US banned their own citizens from going.
Because of this, Spavor's business was not lucrative and this was well known. I also know firsthand that he was experiencing financial struggles because of it and therefore could not rely on his firm as a sole source of income. Now Spavor as someone positive about the DPRK, was connected to a number of think-tankers and researchers known as the "North Korean Watching Community"- It is also open knowledge that if you follow the funding, these people are deeply integrated into the US Military Industrial Complex and Intelligence apparatus. Because he lived in the border cities of both Yanbian and Dandong, he was a valuable source of information on the ground regarding the world's most secretive country where sources are hard to come by.
Therefore, why would these people not use him in their research? Michael, knowing him, probably did it in good faith, his enthusiasm for engagement with North Korea and his appreciation of Korean culture was very strong and like mine. However, what he did not estimate was that one of the think-tankers he was assisting, Michael Korvig, was relaying this information about North Korea to the "five eyes" (US/UK/CA/AU/NZ) system and therefore in the eyes of China constituted espionage on their territory. China is sensitive about North Korea. As tensions have increased, it has backtracked on the implementation of Western sanctions and wants to ensure that US-led pressure will never lead to the downfall or collapse of that state. But even not considering that, a country is always sensitive about the security of its borders.
The information he provided probably wasn't classified or confidential at all, it would have probably been mundane research about the movement of North Korean trade, businesses and entities operating in these Chinese border cities. Thus, when Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Canada, China saw a legitimate opportunity to retaliate and swooped on two men getting caught up in something they shouldn't. However, Canada and the Western media didn't come clean on this but unleashed a smear campaign against China pretending they were completely innocent, because the culture of the Western media ecosystem is that Western espionage "doesn't happen" and therefore when perceived adversaries denounce it, the assumption is its always false. This is a part of Spavor's grievance, because Canada could have admitted it and ended the diplomatic row quickly, but didn't and resulted in him and Korvig being detained for 4 years.
For Michael Spavor was a highly traumatising event that has upheaved his entire life and crushed his dreams, the Canadian government should certainly compensate him. But the biggest takeaway? The mainstream media lied to you incessantly about this saga for years and those who told you the truth, such as me, were denounced for it.