Beijing trip cancellation was political, not about justice in Huawei arrest

Canadian digital security, Chinese land ownership are part of Beijing trip cancellation emails

B.C.’s chief security officer and top premier’s office staff were part of conversations held before government officials bowed out of a December forestry delegation’s visit to China after a Chinese telecommunications company’s official’s Vancouver Dec. 1 arrest.

The trip, fronted by B.C. Minister of Forests Doug Donaldson, was cancelled after the arrest of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou, She was detained while changing flights after an extradition request from the United States.

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Flagged as urgent for discussions around cancelling the trip as early as Dec. 5 were Huawei’s involvement in the development of the 5G digital network with Telus and Chinese-owned Anbang’s takeover of Vancouver’s Bentall Centre complex.

The so-called five eyes countries of Canada, the U.S., the UK, New Zealand and Australia have expressed concerns about Huawei’s involvement in 5G, fearing data could be handed to Beijing by the Shenzhen-based firm

The information is contained in documents newly released to Glacier Media under access to information legislation.

Documents released earlier showed international political considerations – not judicial processes involving Meng’s arrest, as the government had claimed – were the reason a B.C. forestry delegation’s December visit to China was cancelled.

“With the political situation developing regarding the Huawei CFO arrest, there are concerns being raised about bringing a minister and delegation into China next week,” said a Dec. 7 email from B.C. Forestry Innovation Investment (FII) CEO Michael Loseth to Dave Murphy, a senior trade commissioner with Canada’s embassy in Beijing.

“Business is as usual here right now, no reason to alter plans,” Murphy wrote to Loseth Dec. 8. “If there were reason to change things for reasons of security/safety, advice to travelling Canadians would be updated. This is true for any country in the world.”

Industry delegates did continue their visit to China.

The decision for Donaldson and others to return to Canada was made after what Kevin Forseth of FII called in a Dec. 9 email “the end result of 72 hours of pretty intense discussion involving Ottawa, the embassy in Beijing” and the province at the deputy minister, minister and premier levels.

The cancellation happened despite Canada’s Beijing embassy saying there was no need to change plans.

No Chinese suggestions to cancel

Indeed, new documents indicate Beijing hadn’t suggested government officials cancel the visit, which continued with corporate and business organizations.

The newly released, heavily redacted documents show high-level discussions were taking place between Premier John Horgan’s staff, including deputy minister to the premier Don Wright, Horgan’s communications director Sage Aaron, government communications and public engagement deputy minister Evan Lloyd, Ministry of Jobs, Trade and Technology deputy minister Fazil Mihlar, chief security officer John Allan, deputy solicitor general Mark Sieben, executive director of issues management Tim Howlett, and Horgan’s deputy chief of staff Amber Hockin, as well as other communications staffers.

An early communication shows a deputy minister in B.C.’s Intergovernmental Relations Secretariat had spoken with the Chinese consul general to ask whether or not the trip should be postponed.

Consul General Tong Xiaoling replied Dec. 8. Anything other than pleasantries was been redacted by Victoria.

When the decision not to go was made, Wright told Lloyd Dec. 9 that the Chinese should be informed before the decision was made public.

“My only concern is to make sure that the Chinese hosts have been advised this is coming,” Wright said. Wright asked Mihlar, Allan or Public Service Agency deputy minister Okenge Yuma Morisho to handle the issue.

 

A Dec. 9 memo from Kevin Tsui of B.C.’s Beijing Trade and Investment Representative Office said Canada’s Beijing embassy was suggesting it was business as usual and that federal Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada Melanie Joly was still expected.

“We are not hearing of cancellation requests from the Chinese side or anything that would suggest the Chinese are not welcoming Canadian officials or visitors,” said Tsui’s email to Trade & Invest British Columbia East Asian executive director Paul Irwin.

Some delegation members, however, remained leery of going to China at the time.

University of Victoria director of student recruitment and global engagement Carolyn Russell asked Tsui Dec. 9 if she and university president Jamie Cassels should be postponing their involvement.

“Anxiety is building with travellers like us trying to understand if there are potential risks with our business in China and travel there,” Russell wrote.

Irwin later wrote other groups were re-assessing their visits.

The itinerary

The itinerary for the Canada Wood China Program, scheduled for Dec. 11-15, was to have involved attending the Sino-Canada Wood Conference in Beijing on Dec. 12 with the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for the Zhongci Hongfeng Sino-Canada Low Carbon Ecological Health Community Demonstration Project.

Dec. 13 was to include meetings with the Xiongan Administrative Committee in Hebei Province. Xiongan aims to emulate Vancouver’s green city goals and is seen as a partner in wood frame construction and marketing for Canadian lumber exports. A further MOU was with the China Railway Real Estate Group.

Dec. 14 had another MOU with the China Academy of Building Research, which oversees all Chinese national building research programs, including codes and standards research.

The media messaging memo released Dec. 10 said that if pressed, spokespeople could say, “It is anticipated that Minister Donaldson will work to reschedule the official events planned for the Chinese portion of this mission at the earliest convenient moment.”

The notes said while China “remains a valuable trading partner . . . recent events have created a climate that could detract from the focus of our trade mission.”

Among trip participants was Natural Resources Canada director Jeffrey Biggs,

Forestry Innovation Investment CEO Michael Loseth, Canfor president Don Kayne, Kalesnikoff Lumber president Ken Kalesnikoff, San Group CEO Kamal Sanghera, Skeena Sawmills president Teddy Cui, Tolko Industries general manager John Langley, Coast Tsimshian Resources CEO Erminio Puce, Alberta Forest Products Association president Paul Whittaker, Lax Kw’alaams Mayor John Helin, Canada Wood Group president Bruce St. John, Council of Forest Industries president Susan Yurkovich and FPInnovations leader Tim Caldecott.

jhainsworth@glaciermedia.ca

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