Taiwan’s chief representative in Ottawa is pitching Canada on closer ties with the self-ruled island as a costly and corrosive dispute between China and the Canadian government drags on.
Relations between China and Canada have deteriorated over the past eight months since December, 2018, when Canadian officials arrested a senior Huawei executive, Meng Wanzhou, on a U.S. extradition request.
Representative Winston Wen-yi Chen of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Canada said the Taiwanese people are no stranger to “bullying” from Beijing and can not only offer advice on how to deal with Beijing but also a reliable and democratic trading partner that follows the rule of law.
“I want to expand and deepen the relationship with Canada,” he said.
“We are both democratic countries. We do things according to international norms and regulations.”
In the days after Ms. Meng’s arrest, Beijing seized two Canadians whom it’s since accused of espionage. Soybean and canola seed producers have seen purchases by Chinese buyers slow to a trickle and China has also formally barred imports of Canadian pork and beef.
“We have been through the experience that you are currently suffering,” Mr. Chen said. His office functions as the de-facto embassy for Taiwan in Ottawa.
“That is something we are very familiar with. They can stop imports. Stop tourists.”
He said that just last week Beijing suspended a program allowing individual tourists from 47 mainland Chinese cities to visit Taiwan, a measure that will hurt the self-ruled island.
“Around two-and-a-half million come to Taiwan from the mainland each year,” Mr. Chen said.
“Now they use government power and authority to stop them,” he said. “It’s a way to pressure our government.”
Mr. Chen said Canada should consider doing more business with Taiwan. The country is Canada’s 12th-largest trading partner and fifth-largest in Asia, behind larger economies such as China and Japan. Some 200,000 people of Taiwanese descent live in Canada and 60,000 Canadian citizens live in Taiwan.
“We might not have the big trade like China … and we might not be able to buy as much from Canada, but we always honour any deal with our Canadian friends.”
Taiwan is a self-ruled region with its own military and foreign policy that the Communist Party-run People’s Republic of China claims as part of its territory. Unlike China, Taiwan is a democracy and is where defeated Nationalist forces retreated in 1949 after they lost the Chinese civil war on the mainland to Mao Zedong’s Communists.
Beijing has repeatedly conducted military drills simulating the invasion of Taiwan, and in recent years has sent bombers on "encirclement" flights. Beijing has never ruled out the use of force to bring Taipei under its command.
Under Canada’s One China policy, Canada does not recognize Taiwan as a sovereign state and does not maintain official government-to-government relations with Taipei.
In recent decades, there have been no high-level visits by Canadian government.
It’s been more than 20 years since a Canadian cabinet minister visited Taiwan. The last one, according to Mr. Chen, was John Manley when he was industry minister in 1998.
The Canadian government, asked why no cabinet minister has visited Taiwan in two decades, and when it might send one, did not directly answer the question.
“Canada’s interests are represented in Taiwan by our office in Taipei, which has been open since 1986,” said Stefano Maron, a spokesman for the Department of Global Affairs. "The Canadian Trade Office in Taipei facilitates co-operation on everything from trade and foreign direct investment to public-policy issues.”
One way that Taiwan and Canada might deepen trade ties is through the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a multilateral free-trade agreement between Canada and 10 other Asia-Pacific countries.
Taiwan’s envoy said he’s encouraged by a recent effort by the Canadian government to consult Canadians on what they think of admitting other jurisdictions to the TPP, including Taiwan.
Mr. Chen said it’s time for Canada to interpret its One China policy more flexibly. He noted that in 1970 when Ottawa recognized the Communist-ruled People’s Republic of China and broke off diplomatic relations with Taiwan, it didn’t embrace Beijing’s view of Taiwan.
In the 1970 communiqué, it said “the Chinese government reaffirms that Taiwan is an inalienable part of the territory of the People’s Republic of China. The Canadian government takes note of this position of the Chinese government.”
Mr. Chen points out Canada never recognized or accepted Beijing’s view of Taiwan, but merely “took note” of it. “It’s the lowest level of response. You can say whatever you like and I take note of it. I didn’t recognize it.”
He said China wants to take over Taiwan because its vibrant democracy is a threat to the Communist Party-controlled authoritarian state.
“They have a strong desire to do so because we always demonstrate that a Mandarin-speaking society can continue to live democratically with an independent judiciary” he said.
“That means that in the Chinese [mainland] territory they could do the same thing. … That is a big threat to them.”