A Liberal MP visiting Taiwan shortly as part of a delegation to demonstrate support for the self-governed island said security officials in Canada advised her to leave her computer and smartphone at home and only bring a temporary “burner” phone as a safeguard on a trip that has already prompted a warning from China.
Judy Sgro, chair of the Canada-Taiwan Parliamentary Friendship Group, said she will arrive in Taipei on Sunday along with a cross-party group that includes Liberal MP Angelo Iacono, Conservative MPs Chris Lewis and Richard Martel, and Bloc Québécois MP Simon-Pierre Savard-Tremblay.
When the trip was announced in August, the Chinese government warned it would take “forceful measures” if Canada were to “interfere with or infringe upon China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Taiwan is a major target for Chinese espionage. In August, cybersecurity firm Recorded Future released a report detailing how RedAlpha, hackers it says are likely working for Beijing, has conducted years of espionage against various governments, think tanks and media outlets, with “consistent focus” on targets in Taiwan. These include the American Institute in Taiwan, the de facto American embassy in Taipei, Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party, and the American Chamber of Commerce, including its branch in Taiwan.
Ms. Sgro said she received a briefing from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service in advance of the trip to Taiwan. “They told me the things to pay attention to and that includes telecommunications.”
The MP, who is a member of Canada’s governing party, hopes to deepen economic ties with Taiwan, which for more than 70 years has resisted Beijing’s efforts to bring it under the control of mainland China.
Canadian MPs are the latest in a sizable list of Western politicians visiting Taiwan to show support for the island. China encircled it with warships in August during live-fire military exercises that included the launch of ballistic missiles over Taiwan after a visit by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. In recent weeks, visitors have included legislators from the United States, France, Germany and the Czech Republic.
Taiwan is waiting for Canada to agree to start negotiations on a trade agreement that could stimulate two-way trade by enshrining legal protections for Canadian investors in Taiwan as well as Taiwanese investors in Canada. Canada agreed to exploratory talks about signing a foreign investment promotion and protection agreement, or FIPA, and those initial discussions have wrapped up.
Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said last week that inking a FIPA would be among the biggest things Prime Minister Justin Trudeau could do to help the island. Canada has yet to say whether it would proceed.
Ms. Sgro, also chair of the House of Commons international trade committee, said she hopes Canada could conclude this deal soon. “We need to be looking at all opportunities for increased trade and economic activity in the whole Indo-Pacific.”
One challenge for Canadian government lawyers is finding a way to draw up an agreement with Taiwan that doesn’t amount to a treaty with a separate state – the kind of accord that would irritate Beijing. Canada has not recognized Taiwan as a sovereign state since 1970 when former prime minister Pierre Trudeau switched diplomatic relations to the Communist-led People’s Republic of China on the mainland.
Ms. Sgro has travelled to Taiwan many times but she said this trip is “more important than any other time, in an effort to show our respect and unity with a democratic country.”
The visit is being paid for by Taiwan’s de facto embassy in Ottawa, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Canada. MPs’ trips funded by the Taiwanese government in the past have typically included $4,000 to $5,000 a person for transportation, including airfare, and $1,000 to $2,000 in hotel costs.
The MPs will move about in a special “travel bubble” that allows them to skip a mandatory quarantine still in effect in Taiwan. But this also means for a few days at least their movements will be supervised and restricted.
Ms. Sgro said she expects the MPs will attend a national holiday celebration in Taiwan on Oct. 10, where President Tsai Ing-wen will deliver an address. Last year China denounced her Oct. 10 speech.
Canadian MPs will also meet privately with both Ms. Tsai and Vice-President Lai Ching-te. And they will tour one of the industrial parks where Taiwan makes semi-conductors. About 90 per cent of the world’s advanced semi-conductor manufacturing capacity is located in Taiwan, a dominance that Taipei hopes will convince the West to help it deter or repel an attack by China.