Chinese government official planning sister-city trip to Vancouver in October

The mayor of Guangzhou is expected to attend various events and meetings Oct. 19-21 at a time when Canada-China relations remain strained

Vancouver twinned with Guangzhou – the capital of Guangdong, China’s most-populous province – in 1985 | Jaris Ho/Moment/Getty Images

The mayor of Vancouver’s sister city in China is scheduled to visit B.C. in less than a month.

But Vancouver City Hall had little to say last Wednesday about plans for Guangzhou’s Guo Yonghang and his entourage.

“The City of Vancouver is aware of the upcoming visit of the delegation from Guangzhou, China. At this time, the city has not confirmed any sister-city events,” said a statement delivered by Johann Chang of city hall’s communications department.

Vancouver twinned with Guangzhou – the capital of Guangdong, China’s most-populous province – in 1985. The cities marked the 30th anniversary of the relationship in 2015 when former Guangzhou mayor Chen Jianhua and Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson unveiled a sculpture outside 12th and Cambie and appeared at an economic and finance forum at the Four Seasons Hotel.

Guangdong is the ancestral home to many British Columbians of Chinese descent and known as the manufacturing and high-tech heartland of China.

Guo is expected to arrive in Vancouver on Oct. 18 and to spend Oct. 19-21 at events and meetings with business and consular officials. His itinerary has not been announced, but a person familiar with the trip, though not authorized to comment, said the delegation will number six or seven people.

The Consulate-General of the People’s Republic of China in Vancouver did not respond for comment.

Guo was vice-governor of Guangdong when he was named Guangzhou’s acting mayor in 2021. He also occupies senior civic and provincial posts in the Chinese Communist Party. In China, mayors and governors are not elected. They are appointed by the state council, the Chinese government’s cabinet.

Guangzhou, with more than 18.7 million residents, is one of Vancouver’s five sister cities, but Guangzhou has 64 “friendly cities” and 38 “friendship cities” of its own. Vancouver is number four on the latter, more-prestigious list.

Guangzhou also has official friendship city alliances with two Russian cities, Kazan and Yekaterinburg. Guo marked the 10th anniversary of the Kazan relationship in September 2022 with a visit to Mayor Ilsur Metshin “to discuss further deepening cooperation between the two cities in areas such as trade, tourism, sports and culture,” according to a Guangzhou government website.

Vancouver’s first sister city in 1944 was Odesa, the Ukrainian port city under Russian attack for the last year and a half.

Charles Burton, a senior fellow with the Macdonald Laurier Institute think-tank, said it is an awkward time for Guo to visit Vancouver. He wondered what the benefit is for Canada while so many questions remain unanswered about China’s interference in Canadian affairs, including reported interference in the last federal election and the presence of illegal police stations, which China has denied.

“It's puzzling why we would give a visa for an official Chinese government-associated delegation that appears to have no reason to come to Canada except to engage in activities which don't seem to be in the interests of Canada's development or security,” said Burton, a former diplomat at Canada’s embassy in Beijing. “In other words, you'd expect that the mayor of Guangzhou to be having some program with his counterparts in the municipal government, but evidently, there isn't anything to do with them. Obviously, we're not going to be arranging celebratory activities between Vancouver and Guangzhou.”

The visit is scheduled just after the anniversary of ABC Vancouver leader Ken Sim’s landslide election as the first Vancouver mayor of Chinese descent. Sim defeated Kennedy Stewart on Oct. 15, 2022, a year after the NDP-aligned incumbent raised the ire of Chinese diplomats when he proposed forging a friendship city alliance with the Taiwanese city Kaohsiung. China has threatened to invade Taiwan, the self-governing, democratic island.

The last, big Chinese government mission to Vancouver was June 2018 when Premier John Horgan hosted a 24-person entourage led by Wang Chen, a member of dictator Xi Jinping’s Politburo and vice-chair of the National People’s Congress standing committee.

Horgan and Wang officially discussed trade, tourism, education and climate change.

Wang’s visit came the week after local demonstrations marked he 29th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre and two weeks after the Vancouver Convention Centre staged the 9th Conference of the World Guangdong Community Federation.

In May 2016, former B.C. premier Christy Clark hosted the CCP’s Guangdong secretary Hu Chunhua and 200 other business and political officials.

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