The House of Commons has adopted a motion saying Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen is a “strong global advocate for democracy” and an ideal candidate for a leadership award from a prestigious Halifax security forum funded by Ottawa, a move that amounts to a show of support for the Asian leader as she grapples with increased intimidation from China.
The minority Liberal government has been on the defensive this week after a news report saying Ottawa warned organizers of the Halifax International Security Forum that it would yank funding if the prize is given to Ms. Tsai, in a move that Politico.com attributed to fear of offending the Chinese Communist Party.
The motion, which was introduced by Conservative foreign-affairs critic Michael Chong, required unanimous consent of the House of Commons to pass. Advance notice of the motion was given to all parties and a single MP could have voiced opposition and it would have been rejected. None did.
The motion also called on Ottawa to maintain funding for the Halifax security forum in the event the organization does decide to award its annual John McCain Prize for Leadership in Public Service to Ms. Tsai.
Beijing considers Taiwan a breakaway province despite the fact the Chinese Communist Party, which took power in 1949, has never ruled the island. China has been trying to isolate Taiwan from the international community over the past 50 years. Ms. Tsai was re-elected by a landslide last year on a promise of defending the island’s democracy and standing up to China.
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has denied the Liberals threatened to pull funding. The 2020 winner of the McCain award, however, has never been revealed. This award recipient would normally have been announced during the forum’s Halifax conference last November.
Organizers of the Halifax forum declined to comment on the controversy, including on whether Ottawa threatened to pull funding over the McCain award. But they have publicly said this week that Ms. Tsai would be a perfect candidate for this award.
The Chong motion repeated the event’s organizations comments on how Ms. Tsai “is a well-respected international leader, the first female president of Taiwan, and a strong global advocate for democracy” as well as “an ideal fit” for the McCain prize.
Mr. Chong called the adoption of the motion “an implicit acknowledgment by the Liberal government that it has no grounds to stand on.”
The Halifax forum has been staging a conference every fall since 2009 when it was established by the Conservative government. It brings together defence- and foreign-policy-minded politicians, analysts and pundits from Canada, the United States, Europe and beyond. It’s been called the “Davos of international security” and gets about 50 per cent of its budget from Ottawa.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declined to say much about the McCain prize controversy Wednesday but he cleared up questions over the future of the forum by saying the Liberals would continue to fund it. This came the day after Mr. Sajjan refused to commit to more funding. The Department of National Defence’s annual contribution to the forum is about $3-million.
Peter Van Praagh, president of the forum, said the Commons motion “has sent a courageous message that Canada will not be intimidated by Beijing” and “recognizes the challenge posed by China to freedom-loving people everywhere and to the people of Taiwan in particular.”
Mr. Chong said Ms. Tsai should be a favourite of the Liberal government, which describes itself as having a feminist foreign policy. “She’s a strong woman in a position of leadership who’s taken tough decisions in the face of immense pressure”
Also Wednesday, Mr. Trudeau said he would support the restoration of Taiwan’s status as an observer at the World Health Organization’s May World Health Assembly, where the major topic will be combatting the pandemic. Beijing has mounted a campaign to stop U.S. efforts to secure Taiwan’s attendance.
“Taiwan’s role as an observer in the World Health Assembly’s meetings is in the interest of global health,” Mr. Trudeau told the Commons during Question Period.
Winston Wen-yi Chen, Taiwan’s top envoy to Canada, said he appreciated the parliamentary motion’s praise for Ms. Tsai’s leadership as well as Mr. Trudeau’s acknowledgment that Canada continues to back Taiwan’s participation in the World Health Assembly.
Asked for comment on the motion, Mr. Sajjan’s press secretary, Daniel Minden, said the minister considers the forum “a valuable and unique occasion for intimate conversations on security and defence issues” and that the organization has autonomy to make its own decisions about the awards.
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