Teresa Wat is the BC Liberals’ international trade woman of mystery.
The rookie Richmond Centre MLA is running for re-election in the new Richmond North Centre riding. She doesn’t live in Richmond, but instead resides in Burnaby and owns a condo in a Wall Financial building near the Olympic Village. Last August, Wat went missing from her constituents and didn’t reappear in B.C. until the party’s annual Westin Bayshore convention in early November.
Wat Tweeted an Aug. 16 photograph from the Hong Kong Trade Development Council Food Expo. Sometime around Aug. 23, she suffered a hip injury in a Mainland Chinese city near Hong Kong. Her annual Aug. 28 riding barbecue went on without her and a local Chinese newspaper, Sing Tao Daily, noticed she wasn’t there. It reported Aug. 30 that she “fell down and got hurt” in Zhuhai, China.
When this reporter learned about Wat’s absence in late October and started asking questions, Wat didn’t respond but her assistant did, with only scant information.
Was it a bad luck fall or did something else happen? Why was her absence not communicated proactively by her, to her constituents?
On Aug. 23, Wat emailed her riding and ministerial colleagues from caucus, advising them that she had suffered an injury.
“I fell during my visit in Zhuhai, China [censored for personal reasons]. I am hospitalized, stabilized and on way to recovery. Please note that so far, my official line is as follows: ‘I fell during my visit in China and am hospitalized, but on way to recovery.’ Trust things are well at the office. I hope you all have a great summer.”
Wat was in touch with Canadian Consul General Rachael Bedlington in an Aug. 27 email.
“The medical team here at the Zhuhuai People’s Hospital assures me of a speedy recovery without after effect. I hope to walk out of the hospital in about a month.”
“I am able to use my government email for my work.”
A week later, her Aug. 30 email on her iPad to aides Jay Denney and Angela Jones said the hospital did not have wifi, “but they have made special arrangements to have a wifi box for me. But still the reception is not ideal.”
On Sept. 9, she wrote that she was “getting better day by day and am fully confident that I will be back at action soon. See you all in October.”
A Sept. 18 email said she was using the wifi service at the hospital, but alluded to difficulties because of China’s Internet censorship.
“Unfortunately, the wifi arrangement here does not allow me to access any internet/web sites in Canada or even YouTube videos on [Premier Christy Clark] announcements. So I have no access to what is going on back home, except the daily media summary.”
Several meetings and briefings were understandably cancelled.
Liberal Speaker Linda Reid, who represents the Richmond East riding, asked on Sept. 20: “Are you in China or Burnaby?”
Roll out red carpets
Citizens Services minister Amrik Virk subbed for Wat when a group of billionaires known as the China Entrepreneur Club made a Vancouver stop on its Canada-wide tour Oct. 22 at the Telus headquarters in downtown Vancouver. The Oct. 21 briefing email mentioned that 49 members of the largest private sector companies in China would be on the trip. “Peter Wang, one member, lives here in B.C.” One of the attendees was Telus lobbyist and BC Liberal candidate Kim Chan Logan.
Wat’s ministry was not, and did not, issue a news release. Photographs were published on the government’s Flickr page.
Three topics were to be discussed with simultaneous interpretation with headsets: ICT digital media; consumer products, e-commerce; and clean tech. Attendees posed for a group photo, but the meeting was held under “Chatham House rules (ie not for attribution) meant to be a closed door dialogue.”
Yes, you read that correctly. A B.C. cabinet minister and his aides went to the headquarters of a major Liberal party donor and government telecommunications contractor to meet with tycoons from China behind closed doors.
Wat’s recovery took several weeks longer than expected. There was even the odd prospect of B.C. government business being conducted virtually in China.
On Nov. 2, Jones asked her “are you able to see and sign-off OICs [cabinet orders] on your iPad for tomorrow’s cabinet?”
Wat responded: “I really doubt as I am out of the hospital most of the day and will have no access to wifi and I will be extremely busy packing up.”
Before she returned, Wat appeared with a B.C. delegation at the Zhuhai Airshow. She was photographed on the convention floor and that photograph was published Nov. 1.
Wat’s first known public appearance back in B.C. was the Nov. 4 kickoff of the BC Liberal convention in Vancouver. The event was the only time last fall that the BC Liberal caucus was together at the same venue as the media. Clark cancelled the last fall sitting of the Legislature before the 2017 election.
Meanwhile, when Wat returned to duty, she was not only meeting with an arm of giant state-owned conglomerate China Poly Group — the controversial spinoff of the People’s Liberation Army — but also China’s biggest payment company.
But, first, a cash for access fundraiser at a Richmond casino that is a magnet for Chinese tourists. She hosted the Richmond Centre fundraiser Nov. 28 at the River Rock Casino Resort, with special guest Clark. The Elections BC filing shows 205 individuals and 157 corporations bought tickets for $388 or $500. The event grossed $169,800 and netted $124,450.42. More than enough to fund Wat’s re-election campaign.
Before she was elected in 2013, Wat was president of CHMB radio, which broadcast Chinese state-approved programming from China Radio International. An affiliate of CRI donated to the BC Liberals. B.C. has no laws about the size or source of political donations.
Two days later, a meeting with Union Mobile Pay (China) CEO and co-founder Bin Zhang and two others from the company was scuttled at the last minute, but rescheduled for Jan. 25, 2017. There are 5.5 billion UnionPay debit and credit cards issued in in 40 countries — more than Visa and MasterCard combined, according to Nilson Report. High withdrawal limit UnionPay ATMs are in some B.C. casinos.
The big deal of the week was the opening of Poly Culture’s downtown gallery on West Pender Street in downtown Vancouver and a celebratory concert at the Chan Centre with the China Philharmonic. Poly Culture’s CEO Jiang Yingchun told this reporter that the real estate division of the conglomerate had its sights set on B.C.
Despite the gallery being in downtown Vancouver, Poly Culture maintains an office in Richmond, on the very same floor of the office building where Wat’s riding office is located. HQ Vancouver, subsidized to the tune of $3.3 million by Wat’s ministry, helped lure Poly Culture to B.C. Jiang was evasive when asked why the company didn’t open in Los Angeles or San Francisco instead. Media reports indicate China Poly Group is on the radar of U.S. authorities.
The May 9 election coincides with the anniversary of Clark and Wat meeting in Vancouver with Hu Chunhua, the top Chinese Communist Party official in Guangdong province and a member of the Central Committee’s Politburo. Hu’s resume includes vice chairman of the Beijing-installed government in Tibet, where he kept the independence movement on a short leash.
The Liberal election ad campaign has pressed the “heavy up” button on TV spots that position Clark as the only party leader that will stand up to Donald Trump.
But in an election where relations with China are conspicuously absent from the discourse, does Clark have what it takes to stand up to Xi Jinping?
Or has she already kowtowed and sold B.C. out?