A NEW SENATOR WITH ASIAN ROOTS
New appointee believes China’s rise is reshaping global economics, politics and international relations.
It’s no surprise that Yuen Pau Woo, the former head of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, was appointed to be one of nine independent senators by Prime Minister Trudeau late last month.
As a third-generation Chinese from China, Woo was born in Malaysia and raised in Singapore. He went to British Columbia at the age of 16 on a scholarship and eventually immigrated to Canada.
Over the past 28 years, Woo has worked on public policy issues from coast to coast, with a special emphasis on Canada’s relations with Asia. He has also been a spokesperson for British Columbia and Canada in the Asia Pacific.
The 53-year-old Woo now serves as president of HQ Vancouver, a publicprivate partnership established to promote British Columbia as a head office location for global firms.
Woo has also contributed to Canada’s international economic policy and foreign affairs through teaching and scholarly research, consultations with senior officials, business and community leaders and public advocacy.
“I was very pleased and honoured to receive the news of my nomination,” Woo told China Daily. “When I read the bios of the other candidates, I was humbled to find myself in the company of such interesting and accomplished individuals from across Canada.”
Although this appointment has triggered some criticism, since Woo advocates for closer Canada-Asia — especially Canada-China — relations, many think Woo’s appointment is in fact a positive contribution to Canada’s economic interests.
“Woo will help BC and the rest of the country take advantage of the huge shift in the global economy towards Asian markets,” said Greg D’Avignon, president of the Business Council of BC.
David Emerson, who served in the cabinet under Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin and then Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, also praised Trudeau’s selection. “His Asia skills and knowledge base will serve the Senate and Canada very well,” Emerson said.
A strong advocate for deeper and broader ties with Asian countries for more than 20 years, Woo said that he is looking to contribute his experience and network to develop policy issues, especially those important to British Columbia.
“It will be in Canada’s interest to be more engaged with the most economically dynamic region in the world,” he said.
In addition, Woo deems that the rise of China is re-shaping global economics, politics and international relations.
“Canada has always been a Pacific nation, but our orientation has historically been on Europe and the United States,” Woo said, “As a Chinese Canadian with roots in Southeast Asia, I bring a unique perspective to the opportunities and challenges of building stronger ties across the Pacific.
“My ethnicity is less important than the world view that I bring to my new position — including openness, mutual respect and seeking the common good,” he said.
Mentioning the recent visits of PM Trudeau to China and Premier Li to Ottawa, Woo said that the visits have set the stage for a more robust bilateral relationship between the two countries.
“There is a lot of good will at the present, but it has to be matched by concrete actions by both sides,” said Woo. “There are political and cultural differences between the two countries, and we should expect that there will continue to be disagreements on a number of important issues.
“But Canada and China can have a relationship which is broad enough and mature enough to handle differences of opinion. If these conditions are in place, I believe there is an opportunity for really ambitious bilateral cooperation on infrastructure investment, human capital, innovation, and more.”
When Woo was at the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada from 2005 to 2014, he led an initiative called the National Conversation on Asia, a threeyear cross-Canada campaign to highlight the growing importance of Asia in the world and for Canada.
They held conversations across the country with First Nations groups, students, artists and business and community leaders.
As a follow-up to the National Conversation on Asia, the Foundation is embarking on a major initiative to strengthen “Asia Competence” in Canadian schools, including education about Asian history, economics and society, and learning Asian languages.
“I hope to continue the national conversation on Asia as a senator, among many other issues that I am looking forward to working on, in the interest of Canadians,” he said.
Encouraged by Woo’s new senate role, it was said that more Canadians of Chinese descent would participate in the country’s politics and contribute to Canada, a country continues to welcome and promote cultural diversity.
“I hope that I will be seen as proof that minorities and immigrants to Canada, including Chinese Canadians of all generations, can have a place in the highest levels of government, not because of our ethnicity, but because of our ability and commitment to Canada,” he said.
Yuen Pau Woo along with other five new Senators was sworn in last Thursday, on November 17. They are the first six of a group of 21 Senators who have been selected under a new non-partisan, merit-based process.
Yuen Pau Woo is one of nine independent senators appointed late last month.