“Tens of Billions” In Beijing Lucre Blowback: The Backstory

The smartass headline is because I’m trying to amuse myself after being rather let down by Foreign Minister Rob Nicholson’s shop on Wednesday. Having provided roughly 24 hours lead time I was assured of a fulsome response by my column deadline. Three hours before my deadline I even got this assurance: “Will also have Justice and RCMP response for you”. Then dead air. Then several unreturned calls. Then six hours after deadline, a response that contained  less information than I already had, less than what is already on the public record, and less than what our ambassador to China was happy to disclose even to the Beijing regime’s China Daily five months ago.

It just so happens that a great deal hinges on the obsequious accommodation that Ambassador Guy Saint-Jacques publicly presented to soothe the passions of President Xi Jinping’s ongoing “anti-corruption” frenzy, which leaves every appearance of being just as much an old-style Stalinist purge and a cunning world-order shakedown, besides.

That’s something I look into in my column in the Ottawa Citizen.

Whatever Canada is offering (and what would that be, precisely, Minister Nicholson?) may well determine whether Canada’s Conservatives (and even more so their Liberal Party predecessors) have left Canadians on the hook for “tens of billions of dollars” in money forfeitures and asset seizures, or perhaps some smaller number of billions. We’re already cooperating, but just how enthusiastically will depend on the details of a 2013 agreement John Baird struck when he was foreign minister. The arrangement would conscript Canada’s official help in Beijing’s maneuverings to recover some of the vast sums of cash its corrupt officials have spirited out of the country in recent years. In return, Canada would get a cut of the action. Like in the Sopranos.

Bay Street’s tough-as-nails money laundering specialist Christine Duhaime tells me that no matter how the arrangement shakes out, it will be “a major monetary drain on the Canadian economy.” Brock University’s China specialist Charles Burton tells me our arrangements wtih Beijing have already drawn down the value of the stuff in Canada’s soul.

Beijing cannot be trusted to be straight with us about the evidence against any of characters facing corruption charges back to China. Which one is truly a corrupt official on the lam with hundreds of millions of stolen yuan? Which one is just an out-crowd Communist Party sap unfortunate enough to have been crossed by an in-crowd Communist Party boss in some real-estate swindle that went sideways? “I don’t know why we agreed to this,” Professor Burton told me.

Neither do I, neither do you, and none of us are even allowed to know what it is we have agreed to, exactly, or what our bottom line might be in some agreement we may or may not yet ratify.

Backstory: Yes, that’s Michael Ching, vice-president of the  Canada Asia Pacific Business Association (top left), in a 2011 group photo with former federal Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff. The South China Morning Post’s intrepid Ian Young reports that Michael Ching is Beijing’s “Most Wanted” fugitive Cheng Muyang, whose family’s faction has been on the outs of China’s ruling circles for some while now. Ching’s dad was a party bigshot and chairman of the Hebei People’s Congress until corruption charges brought him low a few years back.

So Ching is a Liberal supporter, so what? And what has he done to deserve being sent back to China? It turns out that Ching has tried and failed to win refugee status in Canada, and his court fight is ongoing. He says the evidence against him was procured by torture. In an email exchange reported by the Vancouver Sun’s Peter O’Neil, Ching noted: “In a power struggle, some members of the Chinese Communist Party would use its legal system to get rid of their political enemies.” And by the way, Ching has also contributed to Conservative Party war chests.

Backstory: John Baird, having resigned his post as Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs only a couple of months ago, has lately signed on as an adviser to Hong Kong billionaire Richard Li, scion of Li Ka-shing’s $33.7 billion global empire, which includes the Calgary-based Husky Energy conglomerate. The senior Mr. Li, whose tight connections with Beijing’s ruling party elites helped launch him into the big-money stratosphere, is now officially on the outs of President Xi Jinping’s increasingly hardcore clique of Leninist state capitalists.

Canadians can laugh at themselves, though. Remember when China’s billionaires were going to pave Canada’s gateway to energy security and prosperity? Seems like only yesterday we were telling ourselves that. It’s sobering to be reminded that the personal net worth of delegates to last month’s National People’s Congress and its affiliated Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in Beijing was roughly $576 billion. More than 200 of the delegates were billionaires, and it’s on their behalf that President Xi has “redoubled efforts to criminalize online speech, silence journalists, and strengthen the ideological training of university lecturers, academic researchers, and Party members” since coming to power three years ago.

But tucking oneself away in some lucrative China-trade sinecure has long been a favoured career option for Canada’s politicians and mandarins, and the custom is likely to continue. The Liberals cleared the path, starting in the days of Prime Minster Pierre Trudeau, and Pierre’s son Justin, who now leads the party, is happy to carry on the family tradition of uttering dizzy expressions of admiration for the Chinese police state.

There’s the odd case of David Emerson, a Liberal who crossed the floor to become a Conservative trade minister, then landed on a big fluffy cushion at the international advisory board of the $300-billion China Investment Corporation. There’s the odder case of Stockwell Day, a Conservative Minister for “Asia Pacific Gateway,” treasury Board president and International Trade minister before moving on to the board of the Beijing-busy McMillan LLP and a gig as “distinguished fellow” with the Asia Pacific Foundation. Peter Harder was a deputy Foreign Affairs and International Trade minister before heading up the Canada China Business Council. Canada’s Ambassador to China, Howard Balloch, went on to set up one of China’s five leading “boutique investment” banks.

Before Communist Party bigshot Bo Xilai’s villa in France and other stolen comforts got him a life sentence in jail, he was already Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien’s “old friend.” Then Chretien moved on to serve as a Power Corp lobbyist in China. Among the Power Corp’s Desmarais family, the Carolingians  of the old Liberal Party, there was Chrétien’s son-in-law André, on the board of CITC Pacific Ltd., and Andre’s father Paul, founding chairman of the Canada-China Business Council.

These are the sorts of assignations that have put Canada in its current predicament. These are among the indecencies that Anthony Campbell, the former head of the Intelligence Assessment Secretariat of the Privy Council Office, was talking about a while back when he told me: “We’re sitting ducks.”

These are among the reasons Demographia International ranks Vancouver second to last in a global survey of 378 cities on its Housing Affordability Survey, and why it was that by the time Stephen Harper’s Conservatives were settling into their majority in 2011 there were 300,000 Canadian passport holders in Hong Kong and another 20,000 or so in Mainland China, and nobody knows where all the money went or why Canada’s refugees have contributed more to the federal treasury in tax revenue than the entire immigrant investor-class contribution all these years.

Neither is it unrelated that last summer a half million people poured into the streets of Hong Kong and President Xi’s police-state censors were blocking and filtering the stirring news in a massive effort to keep China’s 1.3 billion people in the dark about what was happening. Just why it is that Canadians remain largely in the dark about the depths of their own government’s backstairs relationships with China’s princeling elites should be obvious by now.

But I’ll probably return to the subject down the road for further exploration anyway.


About Terry Glavin

Terry Glavin has worked as a reporter, columnist and editor for a variety of newspapers. His assignments in recent years have taken him to Afghanistan, Israel, the Russian Far East, the Eastern Himalayas, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Jordan, Geneva, China and Central America. He is the author of seven books and the co-author of three. His books have been published in Canada, Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom. He has won more than a dozen literary and journalism awards, including the Hubert Evans Prize and several National Magazine Awards, and the B.C. Lieutenant-Governor's Award for Literary Excellence. Terry's most recent book is Come From the Shadows - The Long and Lonely Struggle For Peace in Afghanistan.
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