Northern Canadian territory puts trade mission to China on hold amid diplomatic tensions

Northwest Territories Premier Bob McLeod says the lucrative Chinese tourism market appears to remain strong in the territory, despite the ongoing dispute between Canada and China. (Bill Braden/Canadian Press)
The ongoing diplomatic dispute between Canada and China following the arrest of a top Chinese tech executive has caused the Northwest Territories government to put a trade mission to China on hold.

Northwest Territories Premier Bob McLeod spoke about the decision Thursday in the Legislative Assembly, after MLA Cory Vanthuyne questioned him about the relationship between the territory and China.

“The fact that a number of individuals were apprehended in China gives us pause to think,” McLeod said. “We were planning a trade mission to China for this year, but we have since but it on the back burner waiting to see what happens.”

McLeod referred to the detention of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig. The Canadians were separately taken into custody by Chinese officials in mid-December following the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver Dec. 1.

She is accused of misleading multinational banks about Huawei’s control of a company operating in Iran, putting those banks at risk of violating U.S. sanctions.

Wanzhou’s arrest sparked immediate reaction from Chinese officials, who vocally criticized her apprehension, saying she was arrested “illegally.” Since then, tensions have remained high, with the federal government issuing a travel warning for Canadians travelling to China.

Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou is shown in Vancouver on Dec. 12. She’s accused of misleading multinational banks about Huawei’s control of a company operating in Iran. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Officials in the Northwest Territories have not had any directives from their counterparts in Ottawa regarding relations with China since Wanzhou’s arrest, McLeod said.

Cabinet spokeswoman Charlotte Digness explained in an email that planning for the trip was in its early stages in 2018 before it was put on hold.

N.W.T. has long courted Chinese businesses

McLeod has visited China more than once over the past decade to market the territory’s tourism, diamond and fur industries to businesses there.

During that time, Chinese tourists have increasingly become a key driver of the territory’s tourism industry. More tourists come to the Northwest Territories from China than anywhere else in the world, according to the territory’s Department of Infrastructure, Tourism and Investment.

In 2017-18, more than 20,000 people from China visited the Northwest Territories, spending nearly $2,400 per person per visit, according to the territorial government.

That relationship appears to remain strong for now, McLeod said.

“I have not seen a decrease in [Chinese tourists], it could be a concern, the Chinese could see fit to revoke the designation of Canada as an approved nation status, but we haven’t seen that yet,” McLeod said.

“We continue marketing the Northwest Territories to Chinese tourists, I think we are prepared to look at further investment,” he said.

McLeod said territorial officials remain in touch with their contacts in China and there is still a possibility for another trade mission there before the N.W.T. election in October.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: China’s Arctic ambitions no threat to Canada, say experts, Radio Canada International

Finland: Finnish president makes state visit to China, Yle News

Greenland: Controversy over Greenland airports shows China still unwelcome in the Arctic, Crypolotics blog

Norway: Beijing finds a Chinatown in Arctic Norway, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Chinese bank invests in Russia’s Northern Sea Route, The Independent Barents Observer

United States: When the ice melts, what will happen to Arctic tourism?, Cryopolitics Blog

Alex Brockman, CBC News

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