In a story that made the rounds of many Canadian expat sites in the Sinoblogosphere, a Canadian paper reports that visits by Canadian MPs to Taiwan have China getting its knickers into a knot:

The spat over the Taiwan visits is the latest rift in Sino-Canadian relations, already strained by spy allegations and the Chinese imprisonment of Canadian citizen Huseyin Celil.

China voiced its unhappiness with the Taiwan visits during a meeting in Beijing last week between Mr. MacKay and his counterpart, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, The Globe has learned. China blasted Canada again on the issue yesterday, alleging that the MPs who visit Taiwan are “damaging Sino-Canadian relations and stability in the Taiwan Strait.”

China still considers Taiwan to be a renegade province that must be reunited with the mainland, and takes offence at any gestures that lend it credibility as a sovereign nation. Pro-Taiwan organizations have spent tens of thousands of dollars to sponsor visits to Taiwan by Canadian MPs in recent years, including 18 MPs who visited Taiwan in 2005.

Taiwan was the most popular destination among MPs who accepted sponsored trips in 2005. The trips continued last year, with another nine MPs travelling to Taiwan to hold meetings with Taiwan’s top leaders last July. And several cabinet ministers have attended functions at Taiwan’s economic and cultural office in Ottawa.

In an interview, Mr. MacKay confirmed that the Chinese officials had “expressed their displeasure” at the number of Canadian MPs who have visited Taiwan in recent years.

“I know they would prefer that that’s not the case,” Mr. MacKay said, “but we’re not going to limit individual MPs in unofficial capacities from visiting Taiwan.”

Jay Hill, the chief government whip, was one of the MPs who visited Taiwan last year and met the Taiwanese President, Chen Shui-bian. He rejected China’s criticism of the visits. “These trips by MPs to Taiwan are unofficial and take place during break weeks from Parliament,” he said.

Note that the newspaper repeats the “renegade province” nonsense — as Jerome Keating notes, the newspapers never let us know what Taiwan thinks of China– but more importantly, this doesn’t look like a very wise expenditure of independence-oriented funds. Though we applaud the willingness of Canada to stand up to China.