EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this story cited Hoback as saying he wanted to learn about Taiwan’s court system. That was a mistake — he said he wanted to learn about the ports. Global News regrets the error.
Canadian parliamentarians are discussing a potential trade trip to Singapore and surrounding countries, including Taiwan, as early as this fall, but say they do not yet have approval to go.
Liberal MP Judy Sgro said in recent comments to journalists that members of the House of Commons Standing Committee on International Trade are “anxious to go and to visit Taiwan” in a trip being planned for October.
Members of that committee told Global News no trip has been confirmed, though, and conversations about a potential trip earlier this year were in the context of a visit focused on Singapore and trading ties in neighbouring Asian countries.
“The idea was, if we’re going to be in Singapore, in the region, maybe we should spend a couple days in Taiwan … get a good idea of this relationship, so it can be maintained,” said Conservative MP Randy Hoback, who is on the committee.
He pointed to Taiwan’s port system and its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic as areas of particular interest. Hoback added that when the House of Commons rose for the summer, the committee had not yet received an answer from parliamentary leaders on whether the trip to Singapore would be approved.
He added that there’s also been no indication of a security briefing by Global Affairs Canada, which he hopes would be offered before any kind of trip to Taiwan, so MPs could be fully aware of the personal risks and broader geopolitical landscape.
“Things have changed,” he said.
Another opposition party official spoke on background and said while the trip is believed to be “likely,” planning has been on pause over the summer and there remains debate about specific destinations.
NDP MP Brian Masse also said the trip is still in the planning stages.
“Democracy is extremely important to Canadians, and we must support other democracies that have fought for their rights and freedoms. New Democrats will always support Canada’s relationships with thriving democracies like Taiwan, regardless of any attempts of intimidation,” he said in a statement.
“A fall trip across Asia to improve trade relationships, which would include a visit to Taiwan, has been in discussion at the standing committee on international trade. Although the trip is still in the planning stages, the NDP is very supportive of developing stronger Canada-Taiwan relations and taking this opportunity to improve our trade relationship with Taiwan.”
Tensions between China and Western countries remain fraught, and have worsened over recent weeks following a visit by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan earlier this month.
That trip, part of a trade delegation to Malaysia, prompted an aggressive Chinese response including ballistic missile launches and staged blockades of the island, which Beijing claims as its own. Taiwan is democratically self-governed and rejects the Chinese claims.
Pelosi vowed China will not be allowed to “isolate” Taiwan. On Sunday another round of U.S. lawmakers made a surprise trip to the island, which quickly prompted more war games by Beijing.
“We can’t just do nothing because there is an evil neighbour next door, and not dare to let visitors or friends come,” said Taiwan Premier Su Tseng-chang in response to the Chinese escalation.
Global News reached out to Sgro’s office multiple times asking for more information about her comments regarding a trip. No response has been received. In comments to Reuters on Wednesday, Sgro said Canadian lawmakers have visited Taiwan bi-annually in the past but stopped due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“The intent is not to disrupt and cause problems for Taiwan, or problems for China. It’s about trade, it’s about friendship, it’s about opportunities for Canada in that whole Asia-Pacific region,” said Sgro. “This is part of an ongoing effort for us to ensure that the doors are open for Canadian companies wherever there’s trade opportunity.”
It also is not yet clear whether such a plan would be approved when the House of Commons returns.
Tensions are expected to be high and the Conservatives will have a new leader, set to be elected on Sept. 10, who will be under pressure to make a mark in the parliamentary agenda.
While committees are independent in choosing their areas of study, any travel as part of their studies needs to be voted on by both a separate parliamentary liaison committee, approved by the whips of each official party, and voted on in the House of Commons to get authorization.
And when it comes to approval by the party whips, that needs to be unanimous.
— With a file from Reuters