Quebec City mayor cancels 10-day China trip amid diplomatic tensions

  • Régis Labeaume pulls the plug on economic and tourism mission to Shanghai, Xian, as well as South Korea, reportedly on advice from Quebec government office in China
  • Sources told Canadian broadcaster it had been difficult to secure meetings with Chinese counterparts
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 January, 2019, 4:34pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 January, 2019, 10:35pm

A Canadian mayor has cancelled a planned trip to China in March on the advice of authorities, according to local media, amid increasingly strained ties between the two countries.

Régis Labeaume, the long-time mayor of Quebec City, capital of the Canadian province of Quebec, nixed an economic and tourism mission to two Chinese cities and South Korea, French-language newspaper Le Soleil reported on Saturday.

According to the mayor’s political attaché Paul-Christian Nolin, the delegation would have included representatives from Quebec International, the city’s economic development agency, and the Quebec City tourism board.

French-language broadcaster Ici Radio-Canada reported on Saturday that the Quebec government office in Shanghai had cautioned the mayoral delegation against taking the 10-day trip. Sources also told the broadcaster that it had been difficult to secure meetings with Chinese counterparts.

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Labeaume’s decision comes after Ottawa updated its travel alert on China last week, warning its citizens of the “risk of arbitrary enforcement of local laws”.

The two countries have been locked in a diplomatic feud since the December 1 arrest of Chinese tech executive Sabrina Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver, at the request of the US, for allegedly violating sanctions against Iran.

In what was widely seen as a retaliatory measure, Chinese authorities detained former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and Canadian businessman Michael Spavor on December 10. While Meng, the chief financial officer of Chinese telecoms giant Huawei, has been released on bail to her house in Vancouver, Kovrig and Spavor remain in detention, with limited consular access.

Tensions escalated after a Chinese court sentenced Canadian citizen Robert Schellenberg to death last Monday in a retrial that followed his appeal of an earlier 15-year jail sentence for drug trafficking.

After the ruling, Canada issued a travel alert for Canadian citizens, warning them to exercise a “high degree of caution” in China. China followed suit with its own travel warning hours later, telling its citizens in Canada to be aware of the risks of being “arbitrarily detained at the request of a third nation”.

Labeaume and the Quebec City government did not respond to requests for comment on Sunday as to why the China trip was cancelled. The Canadian delegation had reportedly intended to visit Shanghai and Xian, the capital of northwestern Shaanxi province, as well as South Korea.

Quebec City and Xian have had a sister city relationship since August 2000, a partnership meant to promote people-to-people relations and exchange.

A delegation of Canadian politicians went ahead with a diplomatic trip to China in early January, hosted by the Canada-China Legislative Association, despite the ongoing tensions. Members of the delegation told Canadian media they had raised the issue of the detentions of Kovrig and Spavor with their Chinese counterparts, calling for their “immediate release”.

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The diplomatic drama between Beijing and Ottawa is likely to intensify next week. Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has said she will put the detentions of Canadians in China at the top of her agenda at the high-profile World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. In response, China’s ambassador to Canada Lu Shaye on Thursday warned Freeland against using the forum to rally support against China. Lu also threatened repercussions if Canada banned Huawei from its 5G network for national security reasons, as the US and some of its allies have, and called Meng’s arrest an act of “back-stabbing” by a friend.