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Clock ticks on B.C.-China ‘Belt and Road’ MOU; Australia punts their own



China’s consul general in Vancouver Tong Xiaoling giving Premier John Horgan a red scarf during Chinese New Year celebration in Richmond in 2019. In 2018, Horgan went on a trade mission to Guangdong province, which has a Belt and Road Initiative agreement with B.C. | Photo: BC Government Flikr

After Australia’s federal government cancelled a state memorandum of understanding on the Belt and Road Initiative with the Chinese government, the B.C. government has just days to mull over a likewise agreement of its own.

The provincial government’s memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Guangdong Province to support the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in a pan-Pacific partnership was signed in May 2016 and could expire Sunday, leading to an assessment on whether or not it should be resigned.

Pro-democracy civic groups in Vancouver are united with the Conservative Party of Canada in opposing the MOU and are calling for federal intervention, or for the provincial government to terminate the arrangement that promotes economic, social and cultural ties between the so-called sister provinces.

“It's encouraging to see Australia — a member of the Five Eyes — defend their national interest by firmly standing up against Beijing's aggressive and silent invasion into their sovereignty, states and territories by cancelling the BRI MOU. The B.C. government should follow their lead to cancel ours,” Fenella Sung, founding member of Canadian Friends of Hong Kong (CFHK), told Glacier Media.

Echoing Sung is Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong.

“I don’t think British Columbia should be part of the Belt and Road Initiative,” said Chong, who broadly asserts, as like Sung, the MOU is contrary to Canadian “interests and values” and poses a national security concern.

The agreement is not legally binding and calls for expanding two-way trade in natural resources, value-added products, services, education and tourism. Specifics include LNG production, marine scientific research cooperation, low-carbon technology development and further partnerships around 5G networks. As well, the MOU calls for “fostering deeper people-to-people connections.”

The state of Victoria, Australia signed a similar MOU in 2018. But on April 22, the deal was terminated under its federal government's Foreign Arrangements Scheme, which became law in December, 2020 and gave the federal government veto power on deals between states and foreign entities that are inconsistent with Australia's foreign policy, Australia media reported.

But Chong raises a thorny matter that could prevent Ottawa from acting in the same way, should it choose to: the constitution.

“The federal government has the responsibility for negotiating international treaties. But provinces have a great deal jurisdiction over trade itself, which is why we've always had challenges in negotiating trade agreements and why we've also had challenges in trying to tear down interprovincial trade barriers,” said Chong.

And so, “the federal government has to work more closely with provinces to make sure that they're aware of security and intelligence risks presented by China's increasingly malevolent behaviour, and how the Belt and Road Initiative fits in their geopolitical intentions.”

Chong did acknowledge Ottawa holds power over broad trade agreements and the flow of people and goods across international borders.

Glacier Media asked Chong if these state/provincial agreements serve a particular purpose for China — that of bypassing federal scrutiny.

Chong agreed, stating, “and that's where the federal government needs to do a much better job of sitting down with other orders of government, ie. the provinces, to educate them on what the security and intelligence risks are.”

Chong said an example of this is closer federal cooperation at provincially regulated universities.

B.C.’s MOU includes no specific contracts, but it has arguably manifested in some public policies such as licensing more LNG fracking (for export to China), maintaining exports through the pandemic, permitting Chinese government-sponsored schools and increased international education opportunities, including contracts with Chinese police academies via the Justice Institute of B.C. (now under “review”). A more blunt indication of BRI policy being entrenched in B.C. includes a massive Chinese state-sponsored warehouse development in Surrey labelled as a BRI project.

Meanwhile “people-to-people” ties had been strengthening with MLAs and local social, cultural and business leaders frequently meeting with China’s consul general, up until the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou. China’s foreign propaganda arm the United Front Work Department has also been active in B.C.

Chong says it isn’t just Australia’s new foreign policy law that Canada should emulate with respect to China; Australia has also passed a foreign influence transparency scheme act, and the National Security Legislation Amendment, to counter influence activities of foreign adversaries, such the Chinese Communist Party, that aim to shape domestic policy that favour China — such as its BRI objectives


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