Amid the dos and don’ts in a protocol briefing for Vancouver civic bureaucrats who hosted a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) official last October were two bullet points on “political sensitivities and casual conversation.”
“Expect that you may be asked personal questions,” said the document, obtained via freedom of information. “In Chinese culture, such questions show a genuine interest and respect.”
But, above that, is one line censored by city hall, under the section of the public records law that protects policy advice or recommendations.
It was the only item censored from the documents about former Guangzhou mayor Guo Yonghang’s Oct. 19 appearance at city hall, the first official visit by a Chinese government official to B.C. since Premier John Horgan hosted a 24-person entourage led by Wang Chen from Xi Jinping’s Politburo.
Guo led a 16-person delegation to 12th and Cambie 10 days after he resigned the mayoralty. He was already vice-governor of Guangdong province when he became acting mayor of Vancouver’s Chinese sister city in 2021 and occupies both senior civic and provincial posts in the CCP.
No Vancouver politicians were involved in the meeting. City manager Paul Mochrie and deputy city manager Armin Amrolia represented the city, along with four staffers from intergovernmental affairs and protocol. Briefing notes stipulated: “no photos during the meeting.”
The agenda called for Mochrie, Amrolia and acting chief of external relations and protocol Natti Schmid to greet Guo and his entourage at 10:25 a.m. on the north lawn. “Security guard to make sure no blockage, turn off requirements for staff pass at elevator,” the documents said. Likewise, city hall security was to ensure no cars were parked near the Kapok Flower Sculpture, a present from Guangzhou for the 30th anniversary of the sister city relationship in 2015.
The group was to be escorted to designated seats inside the Cascadia meeting room on the third floor where it was Mochrie’s duty to initiate the 30-minute meeting at 10:30 a.m. for a discussion of sister city relations, promoting cooperation and exchanges in green industries, culture and tourism. Mochrie and Guo were to be seated facing other, at the centre of the table, with the Guangzhou delegation facing the windows.
“Avoid open expressions of dissenting views among members of your own group,” said the protocol guide. “Avoid interrupting your Chinese guests or challenging their views. Try to find common ground and compromises. Make a point of inviting questions from the Chinese group.”
The Vancouver delegation was told to carry ample business cards and use both hands for offering both business cards and gifts. The guide warned against giving Chinese visitors clocks, watches or implements with sharp edges, to avoid wrapping in black or white or market-like bags and to not use red ink on a greeting card or gift tag. One of the documents said Vancouver’s gift would be a scarf. A scroll was expected from Guangzhou.
Toward the end of the meeting, Mochrie was to initiate the gift exchange by saying: “Thank-you for this meeting, we have prepared a gift for you as a gesture of our appreciation.”
After the pleasantries, Schmid was to lead the tour of the city council chamber, foyer and city hall campus, with Mochrie and Amrolia departing from the group at 11:15 a.m. Schmid and an interpreter were to escort officials to their vehicles at 11:30 a.m.
Guo and 11 others travelled from Guangzhou, including two others with municipal CCP status. They were joined by diplomat Chen Qingjie from the Chinese consulate’s Overseas Chinese Affairs Office, two members of the Vancouver-Guangzhou Friendship Society and the head of the B.C.-Guangdong Business Council.
Guangzhou, with more than 18.7 million residents, is the capital of Guangdong province, China’s manufacturing and high-tech hub. Relations soured after the late-2018 arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, who was wanted in the U.S. for bank fraud, and subsequent allegations that China meddled in Canadian elections.
Guo’s visit came after the Oct. 15 anniversary of Mayor Ken Sim’s landslide election as the first Vancouver mayor of Chinese descent.
Last March, The Globe and Mail reported on leaks from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service that indicated a Chinese diplomat in Vancouver worked to defeat former mayor Kennedy Stewart and help get a Chinese-Canadian candidate elected. “If there is proof of this, I’d be as mad as hell as everyone else,” Sim said at the time.
According to Sim’s agendas through the end of November, he has not held a one-on-one meeting with any Chinese government official. He met in June with Angel Liu, director general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Vancouver, the de facto consulate for self-governing Taiwan.
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