The B.C. government is remaining mum about its decision to send B.C.’s forestry minister Doug Donaldson to China on a trade mission next week amidst a significant Sino-Canadian diplomatic row.
The government announced Friday Donaldson, Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development “will be joined by 35 senior executives from B.C. forest companies and associations as he leads his third forestry trade mission to Asia.” The Nov. 10 to 15 mission includes a stop in Shanghai for the Sino-Canadian Wood Forum.
However, it was last December when Donaldson cancelled his China leg of a trade mission following the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver.
Glacier Media reported in June how the decision for Donaldson and others to return to Canada was made. In a Dec. 9 email, Kevin Forseth of B.C. Forestry Innovation Investment said the decision was “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.
The diplomatic situation appears as hostile as ever; this includes the incarceration of two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, since Donaldson cancelled his last trip. The arrests are perceived by many Canadians and political experts to be retaliation by China for Meng’s arrest to face an extradition hearing based on U.S. criminal charges.
Glacier Media posed questions on Friday to the ministry about what has changed to allow Donaldson to enter China.
Is Donaldson perceived to be safer now than he would have been in December? What discussions took place at the ministry and with whom? Did the Chinese embassy object to the cancellation last December? Will Donaldson broach the incarceration of the two Canadians to Chinese officials?
No one from the ministry was available to speak, according to a spokesperson.
The ministry responded to the questions by pointing out that China is the second-largest export market for B.C. forest products.
“It is important that we continue our efforts to maintain, and further grow, exports to this critical market.
“We take a long-term view of the China market and remain focused on the importance of our business relationships with China.
“China remains a top priority for government’s forest sector market diversification programs,” stated the spokesperson.
The reply went on to note environmental benefits of wood-based construction.
Opposition critic for trade MLA Teresa Wat did not immediately respond to Glacier Media for comment.
The heavily redacted government documents released in June to Glacier Media regarding last December’s trip cancellation 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. Victoria redacted anything other than pleasantries.
Next week in Shanghai, at the Sino-Canadian Wood Forum, B.C. delegates (politicians and industry representatives) “will have the opportunity to meet with Chinese businesses to expand markets for B.C. wood products, particularly to the higher-value segment of Chinese markets where the superiority of B.C. wood is a clear advantage. There will also be opportunities to expand wood use in China's massive manufacturing sector, such as furniture making,” stated the government news release Friday.
—With files from Jeremy Hainsworth