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HomeMiscellanytheBreaker.news Podcast: China is B.C.’s newsmaker of 2018

theBreaker.news Podcast: China is B.C.’s newsmaker of 2018

Another summer of wildfires across British Columbia, another province-wide state of emergency. We all became owners of the Trans Mountain pipeline project, thanks to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Will he be “one-and-done” or re-elected next October?

Unprecedented political turnover at municipal halls across the province, with new mayors in Vancouver, Surrey and Burnaby. The B.C. Legislature was rocked with the sudden suspensions of the clerk and sergeant-at-arms, who are the subjects of an RCMP corruption investigation. B.C.’s third electoral reform referendum failed, to the delight of hardcore BC Liberal and NDP supporters.

Premier John Horgan and Wang Chen, a member of the Chinese Communist Party’s Politburo (Rich Lam photo)

There were barge fires and runaway barges. Even a river otter that raided the koi pond at the Sun Yat-Sen garden in Vancouver’s Chinatown.

The world of mega-events changed in 2018. The successful joint United States/Mexico/Canada bid for FIFA’s 2026 World Cup didn’t include Vancouver’s B.C. Place Stadium, after FIFA refused to negotiate with the NDP B.C. government. Premier John Horgan balked at giving the scandal-plagued soccer governing body a “blank cheque.” Meanwhile, Calgary voters rejected a bid for for the 2026 Winter Olympics.

A data scientist from Victoria, B.C. blew the whistle on Facebook’s role in murky digital political campaigns and exposed widespread, shoddy privacy protection.

Above all, China had the biggest influence on British Columbia, earning newsmaker of the year honours.

Hours before PyeongChang 2018 Olympic organizers handed over the flag to Beijing 2022, China announced that its president, Xi Jinping, would no longer be subject to term limits. It cemented his reputation as the most-powerful leader in the Middle Kingdom since Mao. Donald Trump’s rollercoaster presidency could end as late as January 2025, while there is no end in sight for Xi. The Chinese leader may be the most-powerful in the world.

China is the second-biggest economy in the world and the second-biggest trade partner with British Columbia, where more than half-a-million ethnic Chinese call home. Investment from China in luxury housing and automobiles continued to fuel Vancouver’s evolution into a resort city. Horgan led a B.C. government mission to China. China reciprocated. In May, the 9th International Congress of the Guangdong Community Federation met at the Vancouver Convention Centre. Su Bo, the vice-minister of the Communist Party’s United Front foreign influence program, was the senior official from the Chinese side. The next month, Horgan received a visit from Politburo member Wang Chen, who led a delegation of two dozen officials. It was the highest-ranking delegation to visit B.C. since the 2005 state visit of then-president Hu Jintao.

While Horgan forged closer ties with China to boost B.C.’s LNG dreams, a war of words erupted with Alberta’s NDP Premier, Rachel Notley. She is frustrated with B.C.’s role in delaying pipeline expansion and wants to export more Alberta oil to China. Notley briefly stopped B.C. wine at the Rockies before shifting gears with a heavy national ad campaign to sell pipeline expansion and prepare for her 2019 re-election bid.

The Chinese central government took over Anbang Insurance and sent its chairman, Wu Xiahui, to jail for 18 years for fraud. Anbang owns the Bentall towers complex in downtown Vancouver and the Retirement Concepts chain of seniors homes. Bentall is now for sale, but will it fetch anywhere near the record $1.06 billion that Anbang paid in 2016? Meanwhile, citing national security, Ottawa thwarted the $1.5 billion takeover of Site C generating station and spillways builder Aecon by a subsidiary of the state-owned China Communications Construction Co. Ltd. 

Meng Wanzhou in Stanley Park (B.C. Supreme Court exhibits)

The long-awaited report into dirty money at B.C. casinos was released at the end of June. Anti-money laundering expert Peter German detailed how Chinese gangs used B.C. casinos and real estate to launder drug money.

The pro-Beijing Canadian Alliance of Chinese Associations tried to mobilize Chinese voters in the Oct. 20 municipal elections. Richmond immigration and real estate lawyer Hong Guo briefly gave six-term incumbent Malcolm Brodie a scare for the mayoralty. Guo was cited by the Law Society of B.C. for professional misconduct in early September. In early October, she sat down with theBreaker.news Podcast host Bob Mackin for an interview in which she denied China has any human rights problem — despite overwhelming evidence about human rights abuse in the world’s most-populous nation. Guo finished a distant fourth place in a campaign that was also rocked by allegations of vote-buying through WeChat by the Canada Wenzhou Friendship Society. RCMP didn’t find enough evidence to recommend charges before voting day.

The birth tourism phenomenon at Richmond Hospital gained national attention. Vancouver Coastal Health sued a Chinese mother for an unpaid maternity bill worth more than $1 million. Nearly 22% of Richmond Hospital births last year were to foreign mothers, almost exclusively from China. The federal Liberal government responded to activist Kerry Starchuk’s petition with a warning for those who abuse Canada’s generous immigration laws, but stopped short of a ban on birthright citizenship. New statistics show non-resident births have been underestimated and are growing in major cities. 

Ultimately, the arrest of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou at Vancouver International Airport on Dec. 1 and the bail hearing that followed became the biggest global news story from Vancouver of 2018. The U.S. wants her extradited to face fraud charges. The process could take years. Before Meng was freed on bail to live in her Dunbar house under curfew, Guo held a news conference with a Richmond group that claimed Guo’s human rights were infringed. Meanwhile, China retaliated by jailing Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and Canadian businessman Michael Spavor. Canada and its allies condemned China for its treatment of the two innocent men. Chinese propaganda organs threatened further action.

On this edition, hear highlights of 2018 appearances on theBreaker.news Podcast, including Attorney General David Eby, unsuccessful Richmond mayoral candidate Hong Guo, human rights activist Fenella Sung, investigative journalist Andrew Jennings, sports economist Victor Matheson, and whistleblower Christopher Wylie.

And look back at some of theBreaker’s 2018 predictions which came true. Will the 2019 crystal ball be as reliable?

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