British Columbia Premier John Horgan is ruling out further visits to China – the province’s second-largest trading partner – until Ottawa sorts out its disputes with Beijing over the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.
The issue was raised in dozens of pages of government e-mails, obtained by The Globe and Mail, about the cancellation of a December visit to Beijing by the province’s Forests Minister within days of Ms. Meng’s arrest in Vancouver on allegations of bank fraud related to U.S. sanctions against Iran.
No B.C. minister has been to China since then. This week, the Jobs Minister and the Minister of State for Trade were in Japan and South Korea on a trade and investment mission, but they did not go to China.
“At this time the prudent approach for B.C. is to give Canada time to resolve bilateral issues with China. We will continue to evaluate an appropriate time for another mission to China," said a statement issued by the Premier’s office in response to questions about Mr. Horgan’s plans.
Mr. Horgan has said the Huawei case has been disruptive to B.C.'s relationship with China. Without providing details, he said during a January scrum with journalists, the situation has become a “significant challenge” for B.C., adding, “We have a lot of business in China.”
His caution has been dismissed as unwise by a former B.C. special representative in Asia, now an opposition MLA, who says the government needs to be more bold in nurturing the critical B.C.-China relationship. In an interview, Ben Stewart said it is not realistic for the province to wait for a resolution of the extradition issues of Ms. Meng’s case.
“We cannot afford to be seen to be weak," he said. ”As soon as we start cancelling trips, it’s a signal that we’re not necessarily convinced we can do business with a country that has a different political organization. We shouldn’t fear that."
Relations between Canada and China have been strained since Ms. Meng’s arrest and the subsequent detention of two Canadians in China.
Forests Minister Doug Donaldson was set to visit China in December as part of a trade mission to Asia involving more than 40 senior forest-sector representatives.
When Ms. Meng was arrested, the B.C. government went into overdrive to decide whether Mr. Donaldson should proceed to China – a discussion captured in 91 pages of e-mails obtained by The Globe through a freedom-of-information request. Even the Canadian Security Intelligence Service got involved.
Eventually, he cancelled. “[The decision] was the end result of 72 hours of pretty intense discussion involving Ottawa, the embassy in Beijing, the province [at the DM/Minister/Premier levels] and ourselves,” said a Dec. 9 e-mail from Kevin Regan, a strategic adviser at Forestry Innovation Investment Ltd., the province’s market development agency for forest products.
Arguments over how to proceed have been heavily redacted in the e-mails. The Forests Ministry said in a statement that Mr. Donaldson didn’t want his presence as a government minister to distract from the business meetings that had already been scheduled.
The e-mails capture discussions with representatives of John McCallum, then Canada’s ambassador to China, and even reference consultations with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
On Dec. 10, former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig as well as Canadian businessman Michael Spavor were detained by Beijing in apparent retaliation for the arrest of Ms. Meng.
Mr. Donaldson’s office said in a statement that planning for annual fall missions to Asia to expand markets for B.C. wood products usually begins in the summer. There was no word, despite follow-up questions from The Globe, on whether that planning will proceed.