Bob Mackin (Updated Sept. 1)
Representatives of British Columbia’s head of state and head of government tell theBreaker.news that they will be no-shows when the Chinese consulate hosts events to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China in September.
Staff of Consul General Tong Xiaoling have organized a Sept. 20 dinner at the Westin Bayshore in Vancouver and reception on Sept. 24 at the Fairmont Empress in Victoria. Lt. Gov. Janet Austin and Premier John Horgan were invited in July to be the Chinese government’s “guests of honour,” according to email obtained under freedom of information. Various municipal officials have also been invited.
The events are scheduled for the lead-up to China’s Oct. 1 National Day, amid the diplomatic rift between China and Canada sparked by last December’s arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou at Vancouver International Airport and the retaliatory jailing of diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor in China. Meng was released on $10 million bail and lives under curfew at her posh Shaughnessy mansion. The two Canadian Michaels are in a Chinese jail, isolated from lawyers and relatives.
In email obtained by theBreaker.news, Manjit Khaira in the B.C. government protocol office told Chinese consular official Xintao Zheng that Horgan would be unavailable Sept. 24 because of the UBCM convention in Vancouver. Khaira suggested it would be more feasible for the consulate to invite Horgan for Sept. 20 and Austin for Sept. 24.
Rachel Rilkoff, the communications and events officer at Government House, said by email to theBreaker.news that Austin would not attend either of the events. “Her Honour is not able to attend due to prior commitments in her ceremonial and constitutional calendar,” Rilkoff said.
George Smith, spokesman for the Office of the Premier, said Horgan is not attending for scheduling reasons. Minister of Jobs, Trade and Technology Bruce Ralston and Minister of State for Trade George Chow are slated to attend the Vancouver event on the government’s behalf.
Forests minister Doug Donaldson cancelled the China leg of his trade mission last December after news broke about Meng’s arrest; Chow was already in China on what was officially called a personal visit, although he met with Communist Party officials in Guangzhou and discussed plans for a Chinese-Canadian museum in the Vancouver area.
Horgan did not visit China on his March 2019 Asian trade mission, but he did celebrate Lunar New Year at a Richmond banquet with Tong on Feb. 4. Prior to her November 2017 appointment as Xi Jinping’s Vancouver-based envoy, Tong was the deputy commissioner in China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs office in Hong Kong.
The consulate’s events are planned for the same week that Meng’s extradition case is in B.C. Supreme Court and the Union of B.C. Municipalities meets at the Vancouver Convention Centre.
The consulate has paid $6,000 to sponsor a Sept. 25 cocktail party for local government officials at the UBCM meeting, immediately after the B.C. government reception. Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West has led a campaign against the UBCM selling sponsorship to the government of China.
“I have an issue with the UBCM accepting cash for access from any foreign government, period,” West said in a June interview. “The fact that it’s happening with the government of China is in many respects even worse because of that government’s atrocious human rights record. We’re talking about a government that has up to a million of its people interned [in Xinjiang] for being Muslims, you have the Canadians [Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor] being detained, and to me that makes it even worse.”
Among those who have said they are not attending China’s UBCM reception are Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart, Delta Mayor George Harvie and Kamloops Mayor Ken Christian.
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie plan to attend.
Since West spoke out in June, the Hong Kong pro-democracy mass protests became a dominant international news story. Supporters in Vancouver were taunted by mobs of flag and sign-waving and luxury car-driving pro-China counter-protesters in mid-August, including outside a church near city hall.
Austin and Horgan are hosting their own reception during a Sept. 29-Oct. 2 tour of Southern Vancouver Island and Lower Mainland for the heads of B.C. consular posts. Ralston is to be involved in various components of the mission, which will promote B.C.’s technology, energy, seafood, aerospace and forestry industries.
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