Jérôme Beaugrand-Champagne is a lawyer and lecturer on Chinese law at the Law Faculty of McGill University.
While the people of Taiwan and their first female President, Tsai Ing-wen, celebrated the 109th anniversary of the Republic of China on Oct. 10, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) spared no efforts to notify international news media that they were celebrating what was, in its eyes, a violation of the One China policy.
“Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s territory and countries that have diplomatic relations with China should firmly honour their commitment to the One China policy,” the Chinese government declared.
So Canada should do exactly the opposite.
CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping and his comrades are clearly nervous. While former U.S. Defense official Randall Schriver describes Taiwan as a “modern-day Asia Fulda Gap,” the Kuomintang – Taiwan’s leading opposition and previously its most China-friendly party – recently urged the government to actively pursue the restoration of formal diplomatic ties with the United States and to request assistance to defend the island against any future Chinese aggression.
Ottawa should do the same. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government should end this geopolitical absurdity and modify its foreign policy on Taiwan, especially since that policy mainly consists of timidly following the U.S.-led initiative to allow Taiwan as an observer to the International Civil Aviation Organization and the World Health Organization, sporadically sending our vessels into the Taiwan Strait to ensure the liberty of the sea, and avoiding any policy similar to the U.S.'s bipartisan “Taiwan Relations Reinforcement Act.”
While Canada’s government has rightly decried injustices from Belarus to Crimea, it remains silent on the fate of the 23.5 million Taiwanese who face continuous invasion threats from the People’s Republic of China. How would Canadians live if the threat of 1,600 ballistic missiles menaced our peaceful life? The question we must ask ourselves is whether we want Taiwan to be a Chinese satellite state in the manner of the Soviet Union, or a thriving democracy that can make our planet a better place. Time is of the essence in answering that question, as the military power of the CCP is growing.
Canada has already missed two opportunities to recognize Taiwan as a country: when we first established diplomatic relations with the PRC in 1970, and in 1989 after the Tiananmen Square massacre. Regrettably, Pierre Elliott Trudeau preferred to support Mao Zedong without enacting our own version of the Taiwan Relations Act, as signed by then-president Jimmy Carter. Today, the Prime Minister is following his father’s example in blindly accepting the “one country, two systems” dogma of the CCP, which has proven catastrophic for democracy in Hong Kong. China has publicly said it envisions the same system for Taiwan, even though it has functioned as a democratic political entity for decades.
Given what we have seen from China – the genocide of the Uyghurs, the persecution of the Falun Gong and other faiths, the forced labour of Tibetans, the arrest of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, and the retributive kidnapping of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor – we can only imagine what China’s efforts to reunify with Taiwan would look like.
As for those who will raise the spectre of vicious economic retaliation from the PRC, we should look to Australia. The country is largely dependent on its economic ties with China, yet it has shown to the world that it can adopt a fundamental shift in its strategic approach with its largest trading partner. It has done so by jointly adopting the Resilient Supply Chain Initiative with India and Japan to secure trade links in the Indo-Pacific amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and the introduction of a “Defence Strategic Update” and “Force Structure Plan” to defend its interests.
As former U.S. national security adviser John Bolton said, “the CCP does not represent the people of Taiwan, and never will. Recognizing both Taiwan and China simply means recognizing reality.” Democracy has fallen in Hong Kong this year, and the Canadian government hasn’t sanctioned Chinese officials over the genocide being perpetrated on the Uyghurs, despite recommendations to do so from a subcommittee of the House of Commons.
We shouldn’t let fear guide our foreign policy; we can mitigate the economic repercussions of a potential blowback from the CCP, and we needn’t wait for Washington, as its interests lie elsewhere. Instead, our government should adopt a realistic Indo-Pacific strategy and lead an international coalition to support Taiwan in its quest for independence – or we risk, to quote Princeton politics and international affairs professor Aaron Friedberg, accommodating a regime in a way that “betrays our values and mortally endangers a democratic ally.”
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