At a time of strained relations between Canada and China, the Mayor of Vancouver accepted an invitation to speak by phone with China’s ambassador about topics including “sub-national cooperation.”
The People’s Republic of China embassy in Ottawa published a statement after the June 29 call, but neither Kennedy Stewart’s chief of staff nor communications director would reveal to theBreaker.news what the mayor said to Ambassador Cong Peiwu. They also said they did not keep any handwritten notes or other records about the phone call.
Cong and Stewart spoke two days before the new Beijing-imposed security law that restricts civil liberties in Hong Kong. The July 3 embassy statement said Cong briefed Stewart “on his views on current China-Canada relations and anti-pandemic cooperation between both countries,” and that they discussed enhancing economic, trade and people-to-people engagement for mutual benefit.
“Stewart expressed gratitude to China for its support and assistance for Canada, especially the city of Vancouver, in its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, saying that Vancouver attaches importance to developing its relationship with China and is committed to stepping up co-operation across the board with China,” read the embassy statement.
Stewart chief of staff Neil Monckton said he sat-in on the meeting, but declined comment. He deferred to communications director Alvin Singh, who sent theBreaker.news a prepared statement with no details of what was said.
“The Mayor has many calls with foreign representatives and as a matter of course does not comment on the details of those conversations,” Singh wrote. “As part of the Mayor’s work representing the City of Vancouver to the world, his office is in regular contact with Global Affairs Canada to ensure he is working in parallel with the Government of Canada.”
Asked to comment on Cong’s statement, Singh said: “The Ambassador’s statement is his own and we can’t comment on it.”
Ivy Li of the Canadian Friends of Hong Kong said Stewart is sending the wrong message while China is keeping the Two Michaels, Kovrig and Spavor, hostage in retaliation for Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou’s December 2018 arrest.
“Instead of standing up for Canadians’ human rights, Mayor Stewart would be ‘committed to stepping up cooperation across board with China’ on behalf of Vancouverites’?” Li said.
“Mayor Stewart has essentially sent out a clear and strong message to Beijing that hostage diplomacy won’t harm our relationship; rather, it works! See, Canadians are eager to do business and to have deeper ties with you across board — we will do whatever you want!”
Stewart is the only mayor mentioned on the embassy website’s 2020 list of readouts, speeches and newspaper op-eds.
Under the freedom of information law, theBreaker.news asked Vancouver city hall for the agenda, minutes, handwritten notes, recording and transcript of the meeting. The only record that city hall claims to exist was the June 24 email from a person named Nan at the embassy to Monckton.
“Glad to speak with you on the phone,” Nan wrote. “As what we talked, Chinese Ambassador Cong Peiwu would like to kindly request a courtesy phone call with Mr. Kennedy Stewart, Mayor of Vancouver this Friday or next weeks. Ambassador Cong would like to establish contact and exchange ideas about COVID-19, China-Canada relations and sub-national cooperation with Mr. Stewart through this phone call.”
By contrast, Stewart was relatively transparent about his first encounter with a Chinese diplomat after his October 2018 election. He told the StarMetro that consul general Tong Xiaoling used a speech at a Chinese Benevolent Association event on Dec. 9, 2018 to slam the Canadian government for arresting Meng on behalf of the U.S., which wants to try her on bank fraud charges.
“She made a long speech about how this is outrageous,” Stewart told reporter David Ball. “Which was really quite awkward because [defence minister] Harjit Sajjan was there as well. [She] firmly denounced the ministry. This was a long speech — but it’s more for the bosses back home, I would think.”
Stewart had a face-to-face meeting with Tong on Dec. 12, 2018, the day after Meng was released on bail to live under curfew at her Dunbar house. Last September, Stewart did not attend the Chinese consulate banquet that marked the 70th anniversary of Communist Party rule or the Chinese government’s Union of B.C. Municipalities cocktail party.
The only other subnational Canadian politician that Cong has spoken with this year is B.C. Premier John Horgan.
Unlike Stewart’s office, a spokeswoman for Horgan told theBreaker.news that Cong and Horgan spoke for 10 minutes on April 17. “Reaffirming the strong cultural and historic relationship between China and Canada, and in particular with B.C.’s sister province Guangdong,” said Jen Holmwood.
“The premier also thanked the ambassador for the supply of PPE China has been providing to Canada. They did not discuss [the two Michaels] nor did they discuss China’s handling of the coronavirus.”
The Premier’s Office was also contacted by Nan, who asked April 16 if Horgan would have time to “exchange ideas” with Cong the next week or later. Horgan’s staff quickly arranged the phone call for the next day.
The April 21 statement on the embassy website said China expressed sympathies to B.C. and was willing to provide medical supplies.
“John Horgan thanked China for providing anti-epidemic assistance to B.C., expressing that B.C. cherishes the traditional friendship with China and is committed to conducting exchanges and cooperation with China,” the embassy website says.
Last December, the Mayor of Winnipeg, Brian Bowman, was criticized for meeting in-person with Cong. Bowman Tweeted that he discussed sister city Chengdu, trade and Winnipeg’s aspiration to be a leader in promoting and protecting human rights.
“Statements like this play into the PRC’s agenda of obfuscation and actually undermine efforts to protect human rights,” Tweeted former Ambassador of Canada to China David Mulroney. “They reflect the false assumption that diplomacy cannot cope with plain speaking and hard truths.”
In 2010, Richard Fadden, the director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, sounded the alarm that several municipal politicians in B.C. were under China’s influence. South of the border, top officials have warned that China is targeting politicians at all levels.
“The Chinese Government has been methodical in the way it’s analyzed our system, our very open system, one that we’re deeply proud of,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a February speech at a conference of state governors. “It’s assessed our vulnerabilities, and it’s decided to exploit our freedoms to gain advantage over us at the federal level, the state level, and the local level.”
Last September, Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West led the boycott of China’s UBCM event. It was the only foreign government to do so and the UBCM decided afterward that it would not allow such lobbying again. Australian professor and author Clive Hamilton has written extensively on the Communist Party’s United Front Work Department that pays special attention to grooming municipal politicians.
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