A group of mostly Western countries led by Canada have formed a coalition against the detention of foreign nationals for diplomatic leverage, taking aim at a practice that diplomats say has been used by Beijing and Tehran.
Fifty-eight nations, including the U.S., Japan, Australia and almost all members of the European Union, have signed a declaration that is nonbinding and has no tools for enforcement. The Canadian foreign ministry, which is launching the initiative publicly on Monday, says that it doesn’t target a single nation, but that it was aimed at bringing diplomatic pressure to bear on the issue.
“Taking people from their families and using them as bargaining chips is both illegal and immoral,” Canadian Foreign Minister Marc Garneau told the Reuters news agency.
Western diplomats have accused China, Iran, Russia and North Korea in recent years of detaining foreign nationals as bargaining chips.
Two Canadians—ex-diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor—were detained in China in December 2018 and accused of espionage. They are at the center of a high-stakes standoff between Canada, the U.S. and China. Canada has accused China of detaining the two men in retaliation for its arrest of an executive at China’s Huawei Technologies Co., Meng Wanzhou, on a U.S. extradition request.