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Controversy over Canadian MPs’ visit ‘totally unnecessary,’ says Taiwan’s representative in Ottawa


Controversy over Canadian MPs’ visit ‘totally unnecessary,’ says Taiwan’s representative in Ottawa

A Canadian parliamentary trade delegation arrived in Taiwan this week and briefly met with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, who thanked the group for making the journey for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The visit, led by MP Judy Sgro, chair of the standing committee on international trade, has so far gone without a hitch. But it happened after months of speculation that it would spur retaliation by Beijing against Canada.

Fiery rhetoric from the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa and comments from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledging possible “consequences” have baffled Taiwanese officials, the Star has learned.

Before the pandemic, Canadians MPs visited Taiwan several times a year for trade and cultural talks, and Canada has long maintained a trade office in Taipei that acts as a de facto embassy. Yet in late August, after news came that the Canadian delegation planned to visit the island this year to explore trade opportunities, the embassy stated that “China will take resolute and forceful measures against any country that attempts to interfere with or infringe upon China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Threats from Beijing over the delegation’s visit seems to illustrate that in the current climate, virtually every issue has become tinged with controversy.

In response, Trudeau said at a press conference that “we will ensure that the parliamentarians making the decision to travel or not will be done with all the reflections of the consequences and the impacts of it.”

It’s likely that the Chinese embassy issued more severe threats behind closed doors, which would explain Trudeau’s “unusual” move of publicly alluding to consequences, says Margaret McCuaig-Johnston, senior fellow at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs of the University of Ottawa.

“We know that public and private messages from Chinese representatives around the world are increasingly aggressive and rude. Many countries of the world have been sending delegations to Taiwan for years, but this year, China is choosing to be more aggressive and threatening military action,” McCuaig-Johnston told the Star.

The embassy more recently told Global News that the visit “grossly interferes in China’s internal affairs and sends a seriously wrong signal to the ‘Taiwan independence’ separatist forces,” warning that China would “continue to take resolute and strong measures to defend its national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

In August, China’s army completed the largest-ever military exercises around Taiwan, sending warships and planes across the dividing line of the 180-kilometre-wide strait separating Taiwan and continental Asia. That followed a one-day trip to Taiwan by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the highest-ranking American official to visit the island in a generation.

After Taiwan and mainland China split in 1949 during the Chinese civil war, Beijing has seen official international contact with Taiwan as encouragement to make the island’s de facto independence permanent — and this is a year when Beijing is particularly sensitive on a host of issues.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, who took power in 2012, is expected to break with tradition next week at the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party and award himself a third five-year term as party leader.

His expansion of his powers into virtually every sphere and his hardline zero-COVID response to the domestic epidemic has sown a degree of resentment at home, and appealing to raw patriotism, particularly over Taiwan, might help him fend off criticism. In a speech last October, Xi stated that “reunification” with Taiwan “must be fulfilled.”

Taiwan’s de facto ambassador in Canada, Harry Tseng, told the Star in an interview that global leaders should be careful about lending credibility to a narrative pushed by Beijing that meetings previously thought routine are now provocative.


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“The tensions in the wake of Pelosi’s visit surrounding Taiwan are totally unnecessary. China used the visit as a pretext to set up tensions in Taiwan Strait in a way that is unseen before. It is very dangerous for peace and stability in our region,” Tseng said.

However, of Trudeau’s comments, he said “I think discussion of (consequences) is a little bit over-exaggerated. We have had delegations of U.S. senators, from France, the Czech Republic — we have had more than a few,” he added with a laugh.

Tseng said that Taiwan’s sizable population of 23 million people and its high-tech industries including its semiconductor foundries have long made the island an integral part of global trade and supply chains, including strong partnerships with companies in mainland China.

“I hope people can differentiate China and the Chinese Communist Party … In Canada, I think people have learned from the Meng Wanzhou incident and hostage-taking (of the two Michaels) that Beijing is not respecting the way diplomacy should be handled, and wants to do whatever it wants.

“I can understand why some private companies may want to watch what they say in order to not antagonize (the CCP). But I think governments should look at the issue from a different perspective. It’s a fact that it’s getting more and more difficult to do business in China and a lot of countries are starting to move away, to diversity their investments and global markets.”

During Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s meeting with the Canadian delegation on Oct. 11, the two sides noted that Canada’s bilateral trade with Taiwan is growing faster than its trade with any other Asian nation.

“Last year, our two-way trade increased more than at any time since 1995,” Tsai said, increasing by 44 per cent in 2021, up to $10 billion.

The Prime Minister’s Office said in a Thursday statement to the Star that Canadian MPs have indeed been making visits to Taiwan regularly for years.

There is “no justification to use a visit from parliamentarians or legislators as a pretext for aggressive military activity in the Strait,” the statement said

“We have seen China engaging in destabilizing activities in and around the Taiwan strait in recent months. Canada continues to work with our allies on a free and open Indo-Pacific strategy.”

Business leaders and former diplomats have been pushing the Trudeau government for months to outline Canada’s priorities in the Indo-Pacific region, including diversifying trade partners in the region amid growing friction with China.

Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly has promised to release the long-delayed strategy later this year and said the major summit the Chinese Communist Party is holding next week will help inform Canada’s Indo-Pacific strategy.

In addition to securing a third term as leader, Xi is expected to outline the country’s economic focus, and whether a strict COVID-19 policy that has disrupted global supply chains will remain in place.

With files from The Canadian Press

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