What was George Chow, British Columbia’s Minister of State for Trade, doing in China while a diplomatic row erupted?
Staff of the NDP MLA for Vancouver-Fraserview aren’t talking, but Chow posed for a photo at the Guangzhou Overseas Chinese Affairs Office on Dec. 7. It was published on the organization’s website Dec. 10, which was, coincidentally, United Nations Human Rights Day.
One of the photographs shows Chow sitting at a table where both the People’s Republic of China and Communist Party flags are displayed. Guangzhou Overseas Chinese Affairs Office is part of the wider United Front Work Department, a controversial Chinese government program aimed at promoting Xi Jinping and his policies and influencing foreign governments.
Chow’s meeting in Guangzhou happened after news broke Dec. 5 that Canadian police arrested Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou at Vancouver International Airport on request of American authorities who want to try her on fraud charges. Meng was released on bail Dec. 11 and awaits extradition proceedings in the new year.
Chow was with former Chinatown Business Improvement Area director Ko Man Chow at the Guangzhou meeting. They met Feng Guangjun, the office’s director. A translation indicated Feng made a presentation about “studying and implementing” Xi Jinping thought and “grasping” opportunities related to Xi’s massive One Belt and One Road highways and ports construction program. Chow spoke about preparations for a Canadian Chinese Museum, which was eventually publicized in a Dec. 14 B.C. government news release.
Brad Spencer, a spokesman for the international trade ministry, told theBreaker on Dec. 13: “The minister is on a personal trip to China and not available for an interview.”
Spencer did not respond to a follow-up email asking for more details about the costs and outcomes of Chow’s trip, and whether Chow is still in China. China arrested businessman Michael Spavor and diplomat Michael Kovrig in retaliation for Meng’s detention.
Chow was on Premier John Horgan’s trade mission to China earlier this year and was front and centre with Horgan at May’s Vancouver-hosted 9th Conference of the World Guangdong Community Federation. The senior Chinese government official at the latter event was Su Bo, vice-minister of United Front. In June, Chow was among cabinet members who hosted a 24-person Chinese government entourage led by Wang Chen, a member of Xi’s powerful Politburo and vice-chair of the National People’s Congress standing committee.
On Dec. 9, Jobs, Trade and Technology Minister Bruce Ralston announced forests minister Doug Donaldson had cancelled the China leg of an Asia trade mission. Industry representatives carried-on without Donaldson. The news release made no mention that another member of cabinet, Chow, was in China. Chow’s itinerary has not been released, but he is scheduled to host the first of two holiday open houses in his South Vancouver riding on Dec. 18 at the River District Neighbourhood Centre.
Chow was in his second term as a city councillor in pro-Beijing Mayor Gregor Robertson’s Vision Vancouver caucus in 2010 when Canadian Security Intelligence Service director Richard Fadden warned in a CBC interview that a foreign government was influencing unidentified municipal politicians in British Columbia and cabinet ministers in at least two provinces.
Chow was elected an MLA in 2017, knocking-off BC Liberal attorney general Suzanne Anton.
It is not the first time that a B.C. trade minister’s China visit has sparked concern.
BC Liberal Richmond Centre MLA Teresa Wat was hospitalized in late August 2016 with a hip injury during a visit to Zhuhai, China. She did not respond to queries from reporters seeking to learn the cause of the injury.
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