PM Trudeau defends fundraiser as effort to attract Chinese investment

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the presence of senior Chinese government envoys and wealthy business executives at a private Liberal Party fundraiser in May was his way of trying to attract investment dollars to Canada from China.

At least three people at the May 19 event were senior apparatchiks in Chinese state-run organizations whose purpose is to build China’s influence around the world and whose activities are regulated and supervised by Beijing.

A Globe and Mail report on the $1,500-per-ticket fundraiser at the Toronto home of Chinese Business Chamber of Canada chair Benson Wong was the first topic at Tuesday’s Question Period in the House of Commons, with the Conservatives and New Democrats demanding Mr. Trudeau stop cash-for-access events.

“Chinese billionaires paid $1,500 for exclusive access to the Prime Minister at a Toronto mansion. Rubbing elbows with millionaires at these cash-for-access events does not pass the smell test,” interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose said.

Mr. Trudeau defended his presence at the fundraiser, which was also attended by multimillionaire Chinese-Canadian business executives with close ties to China’s regime and at least four representatives of the ruling Communist Party.

“Canadians faced a period of 10 years of lower-than-needed growth under the previous government. That is why we have committed, engaging positively with the world to draw in investment,’ Mr. Trudeau told the Commons. “We know that drawing in global investment is a great way to grow the economy and create jobs.”

The only known investment that followed the May 19 fundraiser was a $1-million donation to the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation and the University of Montreal’s law faculty from Chinese philanthropists Zhang Bin and Niu Gensheng. Mr. Zhang attended the Trudeau fundraiser but, as a foreign national, did not make a donation.

Less than two weeks later, Mr. Zhang and Mr. Niu pledged the $1-million to the Trudeau Foundation and the law faculty “to honour the memory and leadership” of the Prime Minister’s father, Pierre Trudeau. The contribution includes $200,000 to the foundation and $50,000 for a statue of the elder Trudeau, who as prime minister opened diplomatic relations with China.

Charles Burton, a leading expert on China, said the $1-million donation appears to be designed to curry favour with Mr. Trudeau.

“The fact that a significant portion of the funding is going to a statue of the Prime Minister’s father does raise some concerns,” Dr. Burton told The Globe. “I’m sure, on an emotional level, Mr. Trudeau would be pleased to see a statue of his father, and therefore would incline him to feel well-disposed to those who arranged for it.”

The Trudeau Foundation said on Tuesday it is a non-partisan charity funded by the government of Canada and that discussions about the June, 2016, donation began in 2014. The money will support conferences and events on the “evolving role of China in the world and Canada-China relations.” The foundation said the two businessmen “decided to make this donation after meeting a Chinese student who had a transformative experience studying at the Université de Montréal.”

Mr. Zhang is an entrepreneur. He recently bought Quebec’s Château Montebello hotel, but is also a force for the spread of Chinese influence as president of the China Cultural Industry Association. The group, which is supervised and regulated by two Chinese state ministries, aims to build international ties for Beijing. Its top-tier members include senior figures in the People’s Liberation Army, and navy and Communist Party bosses. Mr. Zhang is also a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, which advises China’s rulers.

Mr. Niu, the founder of China Mengniu Dairy, heads the China Charity Alliance, which reports to China’s Civil Affairs Ministry. In 2008, Mengniu was caught up in the massive Chinese milk scandal, in which six infants died and 54,000 were hospitalized after farmers added melamine to milk, presumably to fool government protein tests.

Liu Meng, executive president of the Yangtze River International Chamber of Commerce, also attended the fundraiser. The chamber, which set up an office in Canada, boasts as board members Chinese billionaire Li Kashing and Weihua Ma, the president of the Chinese billionaire’s club.

Other Communist government officials at the fundraiser were Jin Peng, secretary-general of the China Culture Industry Association, and Ji Jiqing, a deputy director at the same Beijing-supervised organization.

A few days after the Trudeau fundraiser, Mr. Zhang travelled to Ottawa for talks with China’s ambassador, Luo Zhaohui, on “the latest developments in Canada-China relations,” according to a statement on the CCIA website.

Dr. Burton said China is always looking for opportunities for its apparatchiks and business executives to gain special access to political leaders to lobby on their country’s behalf.

“Certainly, there is an overall strategy on the part of the government of China to try to gain influence [with] critical Canadian decision-makers. This kind of interaction clearly serves that purpose,” Dr. Burton said. “It is part of an overall co-ordinated strategy to try to enhance influence here.”

Mr. Trudeau was also questioned in the Commons about the presence at the fundraiser of Chinese-Canadian insurance magnate Shenglin Xian, who, at the time, was awaiting final government approval to launch a Schedule 1 bank, Wealth One, for Chinese-Canadian depositors. The Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, which reports through Parliament to Finance Minister Bill Morneau, gave the green light in July.

“One of the guests at the mansion in May wanted government approval for a new bank in Canada. So, an individual pays $1,500 for exclusive access to the Prime Minister and that individual will get final approval for a bank a few months later,” the Conservatives’ Ms. Ambrose said.

The May 19 event appears to violate Mr. Trudeau’s Open and Accountable Government rules about lobbying and fundraising that state “there should be no preferential access or appearance of preferential access.” The fundraiser also appears to breach Liberal Party guidelines that require party officials to ban people who have direct business with the government from fundraisers.

Mr. Trudeau said he found it “peculiar that the Conservatives are trying to politicize” the regulation of Wealth One given that the former Harper government gave initial approvals for it.

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