Mar 5, 2021 - World

Lantos Foundation urges Biden on China prisoner swap

Hong Kong activists Agnes Chow (left), Ivan Lam (centre) and Joshua Wong (right) attend court facing charges of illegal assembly from the citys protests in 2019

Hong Kong activists Agnes Chow (L), Ivan Lam (C) and Joshua Wong attend court facing charges of illegal assembly from the Hong Kong protests in 2019. Photo: Tommy Walker/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A prominent D.C.-based human rights foundation is urging President Biden to engage Beijing in negotiations for a prisoner exchange, in a letter viewed by Axios.

Why it matters: "This is one of the rare situations where the United States’ interest in standing up for human rights and democracy might be able to support your Administration’s desire to find a more productive way forward for our relations with China," the letter states.

What's happening: Katrina Lantos Swett, president of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice, sent a letter to President Biden on March 1 urging him to initiate a prisoner swap with Beijing by freeing Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou, currently held in Canada pending a U.S. extradition request, in exchange for the release of four people:

  • Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, two Canadian citizens who have been detained in China for more than two years and who are widely seen as political hostages.
  • Prominent Hong Kong pro-democracy activists Agnes Chow and Joshua Wong, who have both been charged with conspiracy to commit subversion under Beijing's new national security law and could face up to life in prison if convicted.

Driving the news: Wong and Chow were denied bail on March 4.

What they're saying: "I urge you, in conjunction with Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada, to pursue the possibility of winning release not only for the two imprisoned Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, but also for Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow, in exchange for the release of Meng Wanzhou," wrote Lantos Swett.

  • "China is guilty of many grave human rights abuses, which certainly cannot be excused or allowed to continue without consequences, but it will benefit the entire world if our two nations can find common ground and ways to work together constructively on matters of global importance."

Between the lines: This isn't the first time that a prisoner exchange involving Meng, Kovrig and Spavor has been raised.

  • But opponents argue such a swap would undermine international rule of law and bolster China's claims that Meng's detention was a political decision.
  • Trudeau said last year that exchanging Meng for the two Canadians would reward China's hostage diplomacy and would only empower China to employ the same methods again against Canadian citizens abroad.

Go deeper: China embraces hostage diplomacy

Go deeper