There are quite a few things that Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson and Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney would rather not discuss about their government’s role in the handling of tens of thousands of jet-setting Chinese multimillionaires and the dilemma in dealing with the Beijing regime’s increasingly long-armed, vindictive and ferocious police-state apparatus. There is an election coming up, after all. The opposition parties, too, have their own reasons for wishing it would all just go away.
But it won’t, at least not for a growing number of wage-earning Canadians. The Canadian housing market is overvalued by 35 per cent compared to Canadian incomes, and 89 per cent compared to rents. Chinese money, of the hot and cold type as well as the clean and dirty variety, is no minor factor in the calamity. In Vancouver, as much as half the dollar value of detached housing sales went to Mainland Chinese buyers last year. Most of the $3 billion poured into the purchase of west-side Vancouver properties last year originated in China, a reflection of the spike in Chinese money that has entered Canada since China’s ruthless Xi Jinping took charge three years ago. There is also the predicament of all those voters who have mortgaged themselves to the hilt on the bet that their houses are going to continue to rise in market value.
“The Conservatives want all of this to go away and not be noticed, and not just the Conservatives, either. Nobody wants to say anything that might cause the property bubble to deflate a bit — certainly not before the election,” the veteran diplomat Martin Collacott told me the other day. A former Foreign Affairs director-general for security services and a Chinese-speaking negotiator in the lead-up to Canada’s diplomatic recognition of China in 1970, Collacott says Beijing has got us all over a barrel.
The case of Vancouver property developer Michael Ching isn’t helping to quieten things down. Ching is either some sort of big-money embezzler and a fugitive from justice back in China, or an upstanding would-be Canadian citizen of nearly 20 unblemished years’ standing who deserves the asylum he’s seeking here. The latest developments in Ching’s story reveal him as a person of lavish generosity in his political contributions, especially to Liberal Party accounts, and his daughter has turned out to be none other than Linda Ching, president of the Liberals’ youth wing in British Columbia.
Political hay is not easy to make of any of this.
A lot of it is bound up in the Immigrant Investor Program, a racket championed by the previous Liberal government but avoided by the New Democratic Party for reasons arising largely from twitchiness about insinuations of “Sinophobia” and a bias against foreign investment. Before the scheme was shut down last year, the Conservative government had issued permanent-residency certificates to more than 50,000 investor-class immigrants, mostly from China.
These people were by no means all crooks. But the IIP was a busy conduit that allowed Canada to become a robber’s roost for various kinds of swindlers and corrupt officials from China. Billions of dollars in rotten yuan got stashed away in Canadian real estate. Now, President Xi is determined to get as much of that money back as he can and to muscle Canada into handing over the culprits who have been absconding with all the loot.
Ottawa is unlikely to respond by giving Beijing any backchat. Three years ago, after Prime Minister Stephen Harper declared that CNOOC’s $15 billion Nexen purchase was going to be China’s last big oil-patch hurrah, Beijing put the screws to us. Within 12 months, Chinese investment in Canada dropped from $21.5 billion to roughly $220 million. So, this time around, Ottawa appears to be telling Beijing that Canada will play along. We’ll just want a cut of the proceeds, is all — and we’ll throw in any scoundrels that Beijing wants, too — but we just need to deal with this cultural pastime known as a federal election, first.
But how much money are we really talking about here? How much should be expected to drain out of the Canadian economy if we cut a deal with Beijing? How much of it is really stolen money?
We already know that President Xi’s own family amassed a fortune of about $400 million in tandem with his rise to power. His regime’s anti-corruption drive is intricately bound up in a purge of out-crowd party bigshots and a rapid retrenchment in Central Committee power consolidation and general repression. By what standards of evidence will Canada be sending President Xi’s enemies back to the farce of his regime’s judicial system?
Last December, Canada’s ambassador to China, Guy Saint-Jacques, told the China Daily that Beijing and Ottawa were enjoying “good collaboration,” and that Canada had returned more than 1,200 people to China during the previous three years, including more than 60 who were sought in China for criminal reasons. Really? So Canadian law-enforcement agencies are already collaborating with Beijing? We’ve already started sending these alleged looters back?