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MPs who have recently travelled to China will have some explaining to do now that they are being called to testify before a House of Commons committee.

The Special House Committee on the Canada-China Relationship invited certain MPs to appear before them next month to “reflect on their recent visit.”

Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault and foreign affairs deputy minister David Morrison and Independent Senator Paul Massicotte are among those who’ve already been selected to appear in person before the Committee before June 21.

Ottawa’s relationship with Beijing became strained in recent years due to the detainment of the Two Michaels affair and more recently allegations of election interference by China in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections.

Additionally, Canada has expressed concerns regarding Beijing’s treatment of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang and its record of human rights violations. 

“You never go wrong from getting intelligence from the street level,” said Liberal MP Ken Hardie, who chairs the special House committee.

“We just wanted to get a sense of the lay of the land in China right now,” he added. “We’re nowhere near normalizing relationships with them—there’ve been a lot of pressure points over the last number of years—and we wanted to basically find out from people who had been in China meeting with officials there what the mood was.”

Guilbeault travelled to China last August to participate in the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development, marking a Canadian cabinet member’s first visit to China since 2019.  

According to the Hill Times, Hardie said Guilbeault will provide a “very unique take on the relationship” because of the environment minister’s shared climate change goals with Beijing, which Hardie said was “a very positive thing that we should do our best to sustain.”

Hardie said that he is open to inviting other MPs to speak before the committee as well in the future. 

“Anybody who is prepared to come in and have a discussion with us about their experiences there—who they met with, what was the tone of the conversations, what was the tone generally of the hospitality—all of those things that really give us a good fix as to where the relationship, which has become mainly transactional, where it might be able to go,” he said.

According to Hardie, MPs sitting on the committee will be able to raise questions and issues they may have with why invited parliamentarians decided to visit China at a time of diplomatic unrest. 

Maya Wang, director of Human Rights Watch for China told the committee that she was uncertain whether any country could have a “normalized relationship” with China without “essentially falling into China’s trap of language” given the country’s current political system. 

“Essentially having a normalized or stabilized relationship with China is often code for playing by the Chinese government’s rules,” she said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau downplayed re-engagement with Beijing last fall, telling Bloomberg in an interview that “China has made decisions over the past years that have made it more difficult—not just for Canada, but for other countries—to engage.”

However, Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly said it was important for Canada to maintain “pragmatic diplomacy” with China.

Canada needs to “engage countries of different perspectives,” said Joly last October. 

She added that while Canada should “defend our values” it “cannot afford to close ourselves off from those with whom we do not agree. For engagement does not mean that we support or condone the policies and actions of others.”