By Ismail Shakil
OTTAWA (Reuters) -A delegation of Canadian lawmakers plans to visit Taiwan in October to seek economic opportunities in the Asia Pacific region, Liberal Member of Parliament Judy Sgro said on Wednesday, a move that could further stoke tensions between China and the West.
Members of a Canada-Taiwan parliamentary friendship group had been planning to visit the self-ruled island for some time and Taipei has suggested an October date, Sgro said.
All delegates are also members of a parliamentary committee on international trade. Sgro chairs both groups, though a friendship group does not receive administrative or financial support from the Canadian parliament.
The relationship between China and the West has worsened since U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan earlier this month against Beijing’s wishes. China claims Taiwan as its territory and is against foreign politicians visiting the island. Democratically governed Taiwan rejects China’s claims.
In response to Pelosi’s visit, China restricted trade and launched massive military drills around Taiwan, as well as slapped sanctions on Pelosi.
Beijing also imposed sanctions on a Lithuanian minister who visited Taiwan days after Pelosi’s trip.
China said another trip by U.S. lawmakers to the capital Taipei on Sunday was an infringement on its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The Chinese embassy in Ottawa did not respond to a request for comment.
“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,” Sgro told Reuters.
Sgro said Canadian lawmakers have visited Taiwan bi-annually in the past but stopped due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“This is part of an ongoing effort for us to ensure that the doors are open for Canadian companies wherever there’s trade opportunity,” Sgro said.
The Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Canada welcomed the plans and said it was in “our mutual interest to further strengthen and expand cooperation and exchanges in diverse areas.”
Conservative MP and vice chair on the trade committee, Randy Hoback, said he would seek guidance from the Canadian foreign ministry before deciding on visiting Taiwan.
“I think we need to get back to normalcy in a lot of things and one of that is in visits and having interaction from country to country,” Hoback told Reuters.
A long-running standoff between Canada and China ended last year when U.S. prosecutors agreed to end a bank fraud case against Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou, a high-profile Chinese businesswoman. She had been held under house arrest in Canada during extradition proceedings.
After Meng was freed, China liberated two Canadians who had been held by Beijing on espionage charges.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government said it respected the decision by lawmakers to visit Taiwan.
“Parliamentary associations and friendship groups travel regularly and we respect their independence,” Canada’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly earlier this month said U.S.-China tensions after Pelosi’s visit could destabilize the Taiwan Strait region and called on Beijing to de-escalate the situation.
(Reporting by Ismail Shakil in Ottawa; Editing by Steve Scherer and Josie Kao)