A group of Canadian MPs and senators going ahead with a planned trip to China sends a message, an expert on conflict prevention says.
“I think it’s very important to engage the Chinese now, to show that this kind of behaviour, this sort of tit-for-tat response is unacceptable and it has to be dealt with in the appropriate manner,” Paul Stares said.
He was referring to China’s detention of two Canadian men, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, on suspicion of endangering national security last month. The move is widely suspected to be in retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Meng Wanzhou on Dec. 1.
Meng, the CFO of Chinese smartphone giant Huawei, was arrested in Vancouver on behalf of the United States, where she is wanted on allegations of fraud. She is currently out on bail.
WATCH: Canada won’t bring up issue of detainees on China visit
Stares, the senior fellow for conflict prevention and director at the Centre for Preventative Action at the Council on Foreign Relations, made the comments on Sunday’s episode of The West Block with host Mercedes Stephenson.
“I think it’s important that this delegation goes ahead and it’s important, moreover, that the United States stands firmly behind Canada and the Europeans do, too,” Stares said.
Earlier this week, MP Michael Cooper said the delegation — who are members of the Canada-China Legislative Association — will push for the Canadians’ release. The head of the delegation later said the topic was not on the agenda for the visit.
“If they bring it up, we’re well prepared to answer any questions they may have and to deal with any misunderstandings that may exist,” Sen. Joseph Day told Global News before boarding a plane to Shanghai on Friday.
WATCH: Detained Canadians ‘without a doubt’ violated the law, China says
On Friday, the U.S. State Department issued an updated travel advisory for Americans travelling to China, which prompted criticism from Chinese officials. Despite a month of heightened tensions, no such travel caution has been issued by Canadian authorities.
Stares said he thinks visiting China remains safe for Canadians, with the caveat that they must be careful.
“They have to … exhibit some caution and avoid any kind of contentious or controversial behaviour when they’re in China, not go looking for trouble. But otherwise, they should be perfectly safe,” he said.
China was named in a report from the Council on Foreign Relations on top conflicts to watch in 2019. The report, based on surveys with foreign policy experts, referenced the possibility of an armed confrontation over contested areas in the South China Sea.
WATCH: China says U.S. travel advisory ‘does not hold water’
When asked to pick a hotspot Canadians and Americans should keep an eye on in 2019, Stares pointed to both the Korean Peninsula and Taiwanese independence from China.
“If the so-called nuclear deal with North Korea starts to unravel, then we can see tensions ratcheting up in North Korea again this year,” he said.
“The other, I think, sleeper issue is Taiwan and as we moved into election season there and for 2021, Taiwan could be a much more contentious issue that it has been in the recent past and that could be a real challenge to both United States and Canada.”
Stares said China’s role as a global economic and military superpower is only going to increase in this century.
“We have to find a way to work with China to deal with areas of conflict but also work together to deal with many common challenges, whether it’s climate change, global trade, (or) proliferation,” he said.
With files from The West Block, the Canadian Press and Abigail Bimman, Global News