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The Spring and Autumn pavilions at the Lotus pond in Zuoying district in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, on Oct. 16, 2020.SAM YEH/AFP/Getty Images

The Chinese government is warning the City of Vancouver against forging a special relationship with the Taiwanese city of Kaohsiung, an objection that comes as Beijing steps up efforts to diplomatically isolate and intimidate the self-governing island.

The Chinese consulate in Vancouver this week released a statement criticizing a proposal to designate the southern port city of Kaohsiung as a Vancouver “friendship city,” saying it would consider this to be “official interaction” with Taiwan of the kind Canada was supposed to avoid after it switched diplomatic recognition of China from Taipei to Beijing in 1970.

“We therefore firmly oppose any official ties in any form between the city of Vancouver and cities in the Taiwan region,” the diplomatic mission said.

Beijing’s authoritarian government considers Taiwan a breakaway province, even though the Chinese Communist Party, which seized power in China more than 70 years ago, has never ruled the island. China’s leadership has not disavowed using force to take control of Taiwan, which peacefully transitioned to democracy from martial law in the late 20th century.

Vancouver is setting up a friendship-city program designed to be less onerous and costly than the traditional sister-city program for twinning with foreign municipalities to promote cultural and business ties. In September, Vancouver City Council adopted a motion to enact this and take applications from community groups.

In October, Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart told members of the city’s Taiwanese community that he hoped such a partnership agreement could be established with a Taiwanese city. He met Nov. 5 with Taiwanese Canadians who pitched him on Kaohsiung.

Alvin Singh, communications director for Mr. Stewart, said Thursday the process of designating friendship cities does not amount to an official exchange with a foreign city.

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“This entire process is community driven so if a community wants any city to be a friendship city and can demonstrate there is a group that wants this to happen, then it will happen,” he said. Mr. Singh noted that a city in mainland China could also be designated as such.

In its criticism of Canadian partnerships with Taiwanese cities, China’s Vancouver consulate cited the Chinese government’s “one-China principle” that includes its belief that “Taiwan in an inalienable part of China” and it argued that this constitutes “the political foundation of China-Canada relations.”

It also accused the Democratic Progressive Party, currently in power in Taiwan, of “seeking official relations with other countries” and trying to create “one China, one Taiwan” or “two Chinas.”

Beijing’s principle is different from Canada’s “one-China policy,” however, which acknowledges the People’s Republic of China as the sole legal government of China. Canada has never endorsed Beijing’s claim on Taiwan, which is formally called the Republic of China. In the 1970 communiqué that started diplomatic relations with Communist-led China, Canada merely said it “takes note of this position of the Chinese government.”

China has been taking steps to isolate Taiwan from the global community, including denying it participation in international bodies such as the World Health Organization’s regular assemblies, and has spent the past 20 years persuading nations that recognize Taiwan as a sovereign country to cut ties.

In 2000, Taiwan had official diplomatic relations with 29 member states of the United Nations, as well as the Holy See, and today the number has dropped to 15.

In recent years, Beijing has militarized the South China Sea and over the past few months has stepped up intimidating military sorties against Taiwan. On Oct. 1 and 2, Beijing sent a total of 80 military aircraft including fighter jets and bombers toward Taiwan, forcing the Taiwanese military to scramble fighters in response.

Charlie Wu, a Taiwanese-Canadian businessman who helps run cultural events such as TaiwanFest in Vancouver, is among those proposing the twinning with Kaohsiung. The Taiwanese city already has sister-city agreements with 25 foreign cities.

He said this partnership would enhance arts and business in Vancouver and he couldn’t follow the Chinese government’s logic in trying to stop this.

“It’s really none of their business how Vancouverites want to make friends around the world.”

Vancouver would not be the first Canadian city to forge a partnership with a Taiwanese city. Winnipeg’s sister cities include Taichung on Taiwan’s west coast.

Lynette Ong, a political scientist at the University of Toronto, said she doesn’t understand why China is making a fuss. “A friendship city is not a formal recognition of sovereignty.”

The mayor of Kaohsiung, Chen Chi-mai, could not be immediately reached for comment. In Taiwan’s United Daily News on Thursday, however, he urged Beijing not to interfere, saying Vancouver is a city that advocates freedom, democracy, and diversity, and “shares core values with us.”

David Mulroney, a former Canadian ambassador to China who also once served as Canada’s envoy in Taiwan said the fact Ottawa never endorsed Beijing’s claim over Taiwan leaves the door open to unofficial relationships that would include city to city connections. He said the consulate’s criticism represents an “escalation by China” that if Canada heeded it would encourage Beijing to endlessly attempt restrict what Canadians can do in Taiwan.

Senator Yuen Pau Woo, who represents British Columbia in the Senate, said: “Twinning with a city in Taiwan would facilitate the expansion of business and civil society links between Canada and the Republic of China, which I strongly support.”

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