OTTAWA — A delegation of senior parliamentarians from all four of Canada's main federal parties is in Taiwan this week to show support for the island as it faces the threat of a Chinese invasion.
Led by Liberal MP John McKay in his role as chair of the House of Commons defence committee, the delegation includes members of Parliament from the Conservatives, Bloc Québécois and NDP.
In an interview, McKay said Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen expressed gratitude for the visit, which is meant to demonstrate Canada's continued commitment to the island in the face of Chinese aggression.
"Ultimately, the objective is to support Taiwan," said McKay, who described the island as being on the front lines of a geopolitical battle between democracy and authoritarianism.
"Ukraine has forced people to choose sides, to see who your friends are," he said. "In some respects, Taiwan's bullying by China is forcing everyone to choose sides."
China has viewed Taiwan as a rogue province since a civil war saw the two split in 1949. To isolate the island, Beijing has blocked its participation in most international organizations for years and retaliated against moves seen as legitimizing its government.
The most recent example of that came this week as China launched three days of large-scale military exercises off Taiwan's coast in retaliation for a meeting between Tsai and U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California.
The Chinese Embassy in Ottawa also warned last fall of “resolute and forceful measures” after a different group of Canadian lawmakers announced plans to visit Taiwan. That visit went ahead as scheduled.
McKay said the group he is leading gave some consideration to whether their trip would hurt relations between Canada and China, but ultimately decided it was more important to show support for Taiwan.
"You simply cannot yield to bully-boy tactics," he said. "So, yes, there was some thought that went into it. But I think it's important that Canada and Canadians show their support for the Taiwanese people and the Taiwanese government."
He added there has been no indication of Chinese retaliation to the trip.
In a statement released after her meeting with the Canadian delegation, Tsai expressed gratitude for the visit while painting Taiwan as a partner with Canada in the fight to defend democratic principles and values.
"In the face of continued authoritarian expansionism, it is critical that democracies stand united," she said.
"Canada is a very important democratic partner to Taiwan. We will do our utmost to jointly safeguard the values of freedom and democracy with Canada and other like-minded international partners."
Canada and its allies have watched with growing concern as China has increasingly asserted itself in the Indo-Pacific region, sparking fears of an invasion of Taiwan and broader war.
The visit also coincides with reports of Chinese interference and espionage campaigns in Canada, including alleged attempts to influence elections and steal intellectual property. China also arbitrarily detained two Canadians for more than 1,000 days.
McKay suggested China's actions have served to bring Canada and Taiwan closer together in spite of Beijing's complaints.
"The Canadian public's attitudes in the last two or three years have changed quite dramatically," he said. "So there's now an identification with what's going on in Taiwan."
Asked about the delegation's visit during an event in Winnipeg on Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it is important for Canada to show its support for democratic values and principles around the world.
"China's aggressive actions in the Taiwan Strait and around Taiwan are problematic, and we really hope that there will be a de-escalation of tensions in the region," he added.
"We will continue to stand for our values, we will continue to stand up for democracies everywhere around the world, because that's what Canadians expect us to do."
Taiwanese officials also briefed the Canadian delegation on their efforts to counter Chinese misinformation and online attacks, McKay said, while appealing for Canada's support in the joining the Indo-Pacific free trade agreement known as the CPTPP.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 12, 2023.
Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press