Mayor Gregor Robertson heads to China — again

12th and Cambie

You probably heard His Worship is heading to China next month.

Last week, the Vancouver Economic Commission announced that Mayor Gregor Robertson will lead “the largest-ever Vancouver-led business and cultural mission to China.”

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The 18-company delegation will visit Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong from Nov.4 to 12. The goal of the trip is to attract investment, promote deeper cultural ties and build “long-term strategic partnerships with one of Canada’s most important trading partners.”

What the commission didn’t mention in its press release was that Robertson already led a delegation of business people to China. Yep, that happened way back in September 2010.

That’s when Robertson went on a business trip with 22 Vancouver companies trying to drum up deals that involve clean technology, green buildings and digital media. So was that trip worth it?

“It was a big success, it was an important marker for the sister city relationship with Guangzhou and the Vancouver presence at the Shanghai World Expo,” Robertson told me this week. “We had dozens of companies. Deals were flowing from that. Several set up operations in China since then and we’ve seen solid growth in Chinese tourism to Vancouver — I think beyond expectations, which was a big part of that trip, too.”

He said Chrysalix, a venture fund company, opened an office in China and Westport Innovation expanded its operation in China. dPoint Technologies, which deals in  HVAC filter systems, also had some “important meetings there that advanced their business.” He noted some ‘green’ building consultants and planners also got work.

“It’s bearing fruit,” he said of the 2010 trip.

So why go again?

“It’s a combination of getting more business deals going and opening doors for Vancouver companies. In China, political connections make a big difference. Mayors are important at opening doors for business to Chinese officials.”

Robertson said the cost of the trip will be discussed at next Tuesday’s council meeting when Ian McKay, chief executive officer, and Joan Elangovan, director of finance and operations, both of the Vancouver Economic Commission, will provide a presentation on the trade mission to China.

As I reported many years ago, Robertson has a distant connection to Dr. Norman Bethune, who is considered a national hero in China, where there is a memorial for the Ontario native who died in 1939.

Bethune is best known for developing the first mobile blood transfusion service in Spain in 1936 and later performing emergency battlefield operations in the Second Sino-Japanese War in China.

Bethune was a cousin of Robertson’s grandmother. Robertson, his brother Patrick and late father John all share Bethune as their middle name. That connection garnered media attention during the last trip and Robertson thinks it can only help again this time around.

“I expect it will be helpful in opening doors and getting us more media attention and that’s good for our [Vancouver] companies,” he said.

A different type of media attention is what Robertson got during his visit to China in 2010 when he made remarks that questioned the commitment of democratic countries to environmentalism.

I wonder what he’ll have to say this time when he’s on communist soil.

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