The first Chinese government delegation to make an official trip to B.C. since 2018 visited Vancouver city hall on Oct. 19, but no politicians were involved in greeting the Communist Party secretary from sister city Guangzhou.
Guo Yonghang led the 16-member entourage that met with six bureaucrats: city manager Paul Mochrie and deputy city manager Armin Amrolia and three managers and an officer from intergovernmental affairs, external relations and protocol departments.
Guo was listed on the delegation as Mayor of Guangzhou, but Chinese-language media reports indicate he resigned Oct. 9. New acting mayor Sun Zhiyang was not on the list.
“The one-hour meeting focused on introductions and information sharing around culture,” said Johann Chang of Vancouver city hall’s communications department.
“There was no readout at the end of the meeting. There was no media in attendance. The city has nothing further to discuss on this matter.”
Guo, who had been appointed mayor in 2021, was accompanied by another CCP member, Bian Liming, the secretary general of Guangzhou’s municipal committee, and Zhang Jianjun, director of hospitality for the party committee’s general office in Guangzhou. The list of attendees, provided by Chang, named five members of the Guangzhou foreign affairs office and three others from the Guangzhou municipal government.
Rather than Consul-General Yang Shu, the most-senior local Chinese diplomat to attend was Chen Qingjie. Chen is officially ranked consul, but is the director for the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office, which runs activities for the CCP’s United Front propaganda and foreign influence program.
Representing the Vancouver-Guangzhou Friendship Society were president William Ma and vice-president Fred Mah.
Glynnis Chan, a director of the society, said Guo’s group was the first of its kind since 2018 when Premier John Horgan hosted a 24-person entourage led by Wang Chen from Xi Jinping’s Politburo. That was the same month as the 9th Conference of the World Guangdong Community Federation at the Vancouver Convention Centre.
The delegation arrived at Vancouver International Airport on a flight early Oct. 19 from Shenzhen. Chan believed the group would visit Victoria and possibly the U.S. before returning to Guangzhou. She said she understood that Mayor Ken Sim was busy “with another important meeting already committed.”
“We are pleased this delegation group came in today,” Chan said. “Hopefully, one day, we are back to a better relationship.”
Relations soured between Canada and China in late 2018 when the Chinese government took Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor hostage in retaliation for the RCMP arrest of Meng Wanzhou. The Huawei CFO was nabbed on behalf of U.S. authorities investigating bank fraud. A year later, the virus that would become known as COVID-19 began spreading from Wuhan, leading to the global pandemic.
“After COVID-19 and then the political situation between China and Canada, the argument between each other, the official delegation to Canada is very low-profile,” Chan said.
Guangzhou, with more than 18.7 million residents, is the capital of Guangdong province, China’s manufacturing and high-tech heartland. Vancouver and Guangzhou established sister city relations in 1985. In 2015, the cities marked the 30th anniversary of twinning when Guangzhou Mayor Chen Jianhua and Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson unveiled a sculpture outside 12th and Cambie and appeared at an economic and finance forum at the Four Seasons Hotel.
Guo’s visit came after the Oct. 15 anniversary of ABC Vancouver leader Sim’s landslide election as the first Vancouver mayor of Chinese descent.
In March, the Globe and Mail reported on leaks from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service that indicated a Chinese diplomat in Vancouver worked to defeat Taiwan-supporter Kennedy Stewart and help get a Chinese-Canadian candidate elected. “If there is proof of this, I’d be as made as hell as everyone else,” Sim said at the time.
According to Sim’s agendas through September, he has not held a one-on-one meeting with any Chinese government official. By contrast, 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.
Also last June, ABC Coun. Lenny Zhou attended the 34th anniversary memorial for victims of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Zhou, who was born in China, has spoken out in favour of human rights and democracy and attended protests critical of China, Russia and Iran.
Macdonald Laurier Institute senior fellow Charles Burton, a former diplomat at Canada’s Beijing embassy, said this is an awkward time for Guo to visit Vancouver. He wondered what the benefit would be for Canada to receive such a delegation while so many questions remain unanswered about China’s interference in Canadian affairs, including the last federal election and illegal police stations.
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