Despite the lack of official diplomatic ties, Canada and Taiwan have connections that go beyond any formal relationships Canada has with other countries given the close personal, economic and cultural exchanges between the two countries, Canada's top envoy in Taiwan said.
"Formality is one thing, but in reality, the relationship [Canada has] with Taiwan is much more multi-faceted, complex and substantive than with many, many countries that we have diplomatic relations with," said Gordon Houlden, executive director of the Canadian Trade Office in Taipei.
Houlden made the remarks in a recent meeting with the local media to mark the 20th anniversary of the Canadian trade office's establishment in Taiwan, as well as Canada's upcoming National Day on July 1.
A seasoned Chinese-speaking diplomat, Houlden had served twice in the Canadian embassies at Beijing and Hong Kong in the 1980s and 1990s. His last posting was in Beijing between 2001 and 2004. He also served as deputy director of the China Division at the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.
He noted that over the last two decades, there has been a steady growth in bilateral trade, cultural, personal and technological exchanges between Canada and Taiwan, making Taiwan the fourth-largest trading partner for Canada in East Asia as well as the No. 1 visa issuance point in the world.
The flow of people between Canada and Taiwan is a central aspect of the bilateral relationship, he said.
Over 80,000 visitor visas are issued every year to Taiwanese applicants, and Taiwan ranks No. 4 in terms of the number of people receiving passports issued by the Canadian government, after Hong Kong, London and Paris, he said.
Taiwan's technological sophistication makes it Canada's No. 1 global partner for scientific collaborations between the National Research Center in Canada and the National Science Council in Taiwan.
The envoy said it was remarkable to see Taiwan' s capability to reinvent itself from an economy based on "sugar canes and bananas" in the 1950s to a world-class economy powered by a sophisticated high-tech sector now.
"Taiwan people have the genius to reinvent themselves through the whole range of economic transformations. Canada faces the same challenge as well," he said.
Houlden commented on the abortive "Taiwan Affairs Act," a bill introduced last year by the conservative legislator Jim Abbot to overhaul the trade and cultural relations between the two countries, saying the current administration has no plans as of now to legislate such a law but will continue to add more substance into bilateral relations.
"The focus of the new government right now is how to add more substance into the relationship using the existing arrangements ... Our foreign policy and parliamentary system is executively led, not legislatively led. I think it's too early to know whether the new government will decide in terms of a formal mechanism [with Taiwan]," Houlden said, adding that he was confident a lot can be achieved using the current mechanisms based on successful experiences in the last 20 years.
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