Bob Mackin (Updated July 4)
The mayor of the city with the highest proportion of ethnic Chinese in British Columbia says he will not boycott a People’s Republic of China-sponsored reception at September’s Union of B.C. Municipalities convention.
“I think the issue of civil rights in China has always been an issue and there have been protests of many kinds going back over the years,” said Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie in an interview with theBreaker.news. “From the city’s point of view, we have a very strong business sector, we have a huge number of ties between Richmond and China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, so I think from my point of view it’s just important we communicate. I don’t know that refusing to go to a reception is going to have any measurable effect on the entire issue and, so, from my point of view, if I’m able to, I will attend.”
Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West told theBreaker.news last week that the UBCM should refuse the Chinese consulate’s $6,000 sponsorship payment and free food and booze reception on the grounds that it is a form of foreign lobbying and that China has a deplorable human rights record. In a May interview, Australian author Clive Hamilton called influence-buying and influence-gathering standard operating procedure for the Chinese Communist Party.
Two Canadians, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, were jailed in China last December in retaliation for the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou at Vancouver International Airport. Meng is wanted in the United States on fraud charges. China has since stopped buying Canola and Canadian meat. Meanwhile, a million Uighur Muslims have been interned in Xinjiang on religious grounds and mass-protests in Hong Kong erupted last month against a proposed extradition law with China. China promised to let Hong Kong govern itself for 50 years after the United Kingdom ceded control to Beijing in 1997.
China’s Vancouver consulate has sponsored the UBCM convention since 2012, when Xi Jinping became president. Brodie said remarks by Chinese consulate officials at the receptions he has attended have been about trade and economic development.
“People will make up their own minds whether they should attend that reception or not, but there has always been a diversity of receptions and other activities in association with UBCM.”
Brodie said a reception at the convention sponsored by CUPE could also be seen as inappropriate, because Richmond is heading into contract negotiations with the city workers’ union. Brodie conceded that the substance of the lobbying by the consulate and the union cannot be compared.
“If you’re going to start picking and choosing you need to be consistent about it,” Brodie said. “Like everybody else, we have to be fair and balanced in our approach and get past any kind of overt lobbying that may go on. Having been at previous receptions at UBCM hosted by the PRC, I think the idea that we’re being lobbied at those events, other than to open up general lines of communication, I really think may be overemphasized.”
China is B.C.’s second biggest trading partner, behind the U.S. The 2016 Census found 107,080 of Richmond’s 196,660 residents were ethnic Chinese. Nearly 45% reported their mother tongue was Chinese. Cantonese led with 43,295, ahead of Mandarin at 39,540.
Brodie’s Canada Day itinerary included the late afternoon Canadian National Day Multicultural Carnival at King George Park in Richmond, hosted by the pro-Beijing Canadian Alliance of Chinese Associations.
In March, CACA chair Chen Yongtao was a guest delegate to the 13th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in Beijing. The carnival featured People’s Republic of China Consul Gen. Tong Xiaoling, Deputy Wang Chengjun and senior consul staff Hu Qiquan, Wang Jin and Ding Tian.
Brodie said he was not aware of Chen’s political affiliation and said he did not hear any political discussions at the event. “It was clearly a celebration of Canada, right down to the lion dance, where they had a dragon that went into the shape of a maple leaf,” Brodie said.
Three MPs, four MLAs and a councillor each from Richmond and Burnaby also attended.
Since West complained to the UBCM, Delta Mayor George Harvie and Kamloops Mayor Ken Christian have said they would boycott the reception. Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart will also not attend China’s reception at the UBCM, said spokesman Alvin Singh.
“In the Mayor’s experience, these events do not accomplish anything constructive and thus he avoids them no matter who is hosting,” Singh said. He added that Stewart “prefers direct meetings with specific goals,” such as a June 24 meeting he had with Hong Kong’s representative to Canada where Stewart raised the Hong Kong diaspora’s opposition to the extradition bill.
On Canada Day, Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps Tweeted that “China and Canada have a very strong and long relationship. Like all relationships, sometimes there are challenges. UBCM always has a reception hosted by the Chinese Consul and unless Ottawa directs, I think it should continue this year.”
On Twitter, West said he was “appalled at [Helps’s] morally compromised, pathetic rationalization of UBCM taking money from China.” He pointed out that UBCM has not always featured such a reception and the reception began without a membership resolution or direction from Ottawa.
“Ottawa has directed the Trans Mountain pipeline be built and the Mayor fights it tooth and nail. Why do the heinous actions of China get a pass?” West wrote.
Brodie was re-elected for a fifth time in 2018. One of his challengers, Richmond real estate and immigration lawyer Hong Guo, denied that China is a human rights abuser.
Support theBreaker.news for as low as $2 a month on Patreon. Find out how. Click here.