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B.C. Minister’s trip to troubled Chinese region raises moral questions

Jeremy Nuttall

By Jeremy Nuttall, 24 hours Vancouver

B.C. Premier Christy Clark and Minister of Asia Pacific Strategy Teresa Wat field questions before hopping on another flight to China, leaving a watchdog wondering about the economic return on the government’s numerous Asia voyages. (CARMINE MARINELLI/ 24 HOURS)

B.C. Premier Christy Clark and Minister of Asia Pacific Strategy Teresa Wat field questions before hopping on another flight to China, leaving a watchdog wondering about the economic return on the government’s numerous Asia voyages. (CARMINE MARINELLI/ 24 HOURS)

As part of Premier Christy Clark’s trade mission to Asia her minister of multiculturalism Teresa Wat will head to Urumqi, a part of China Amnesty International says is rife with ethnic tension and human rights abuses.

Wat will fly more than four hours west from Shanghai to Urumqi for one night before heading another four hours south to Guangzhou the next day.

The trip itinerary said Wat will be “meeting with corporate executives.”

Urumqi is located in an autonomous region called Xinjiang by the Chinese government, but called East Turkestan by some in the ethnic Uyghur group who insist it is a sovereign nation occupied by China.

The ethnic tensions in the region have been the cause of violence, including a 2009 riot in which nearly 200 people were beaten and stabbed to death in the streets.

Wat arrives there Sunday.

Kayum Masimov of the Quebec-based Uyghur Canadian Society, a proponent of the region being its own nation, said he’s asked Canadian governments not to do business with Chinese companies partly because of the concerns coming out of the area.

Both Masimov and Amnesty International said local authorities have forcibly moved people off of land for companies and crushed dissent through intimidation.

“Within our limited capacity we’ve been trying to raise this awareness,” Masimov said.

Amnesty said some opponents of the government have simply disappeared, but the allegations haven’t cause B.C.’s delegation to shy away.

“We have already made decisions about the trip. We are not worried about our personal safety,” Wat said during a Chinese media conference prior to leaving YVR on the trip Thursday.

But she wouldn’t reveal with what company British Columbia’s delegates are meeting.

“When we sign the contract we will let people know,” she said.

Whether Wat comes away from Urumqi empty-handed likely won’t have much to do with what she sees on the ground, Masimov said.

He doesn’t expect her to see any of the tension or strife in the area during the journey.

“They stay in five star hotels, they’ve been entertained,” he said. “They write ‘everything is so good, there’s no ethnic violence, no tensions.'”

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