The lack of global outcry over the detention of two Canadians virtually guarantees the next such case

Canada’s foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, has called China’s detention of Canadian citizens Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor a “worrying precedent” but for many China watchers it is all too familiar.

It reminds us of the detentions of other foreign citizens, such as Canadian Kevin Garratt, Briton Peter Humphrey, Sweden’s Gui Minhai, or Taiwanese Lee Ming-che, and that over the years China has institutionalised arbitrary and secret detention affecting innumerable Chinese citizens, and with little international consequence.

Related: China detains second Canadian citizen as Huawei row intensifies

Michael Caster is a human rights advocate and researcher, author of The People’s Republic of the Disappeared, and co-founder of the human rights organisation Safeguard Defenders.

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