Skip to main content

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen adjusts her face mask while delivering a speech in the northern port of Keelung, Taiwan, on March 8, 2021.Johnson Lai/The Associated Press

Taiwan says it would be honoured to receive an award from the Halifax International Security Forum, an annual event funded by the Canadian government.

Canada, however, has reportedly warned forum organizers that it will yank funding if the prize is given to Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, in a move that Politico.com attributed to fear of offending Chinese Communist Party.

Beijing considers the self-governing democracy of 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 as its President by a landslide last year on a promise of defending the island’s democracy and standing up to China.

According to Politico.com, organizers of the Halifax International Security Forum decided to give its John McCain Prize for Leadership in Public Service to Ms. Tsai. The media outlet said when Canadian officials learned of the forum’s plans, they made it clear the Canadian government would pull support and funding if the prize was given to Taiwan’s President.

According to federal supplementary estimate documents from 2019-20, the Department of National Defence’s annual contribution to the forum is about $3-million.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, asked about the John McCain prize, said the Halifax forum is not run from Ottawa. “This organization is an independent organization, and they make their own decisions regarding these matters.”

Taiwan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs told The Globe and Mail it would be “an affirmation and an honour” should the prize be awarded to Ms. Tsai.

It said it was not confirming media reports that the forum “is unable to award President Tsai Ing-wen the John McCain Prize for Leadership in the Public Service owing to pressure from the Canadian government,” but only taking note of what has been published.

Joanne Ou, spokeswoman for Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), noted the self-governing island has long had relations with the Halifax forum.

“Having long maintained close contact with HFX, Taiwan MOFA believes that if [the forum] were indeed to confer this prize upon President Tsai, it would be an affirmation and honour for both President Tsai and the people of Taiwan in their anti-pandemic efforts and democratic achievements,” Ms. Ou said in a statement.

However, she said, Taiwan will not attempt to interfere or sway the forum in making a decision on the matter.

“On the basis of democratic principles and respect for the [forum], Taiwan will respect [its] decision regarding the prize.”

The spokesperson said Taiwan is grateful for Canada’s support.

“Bilateral relations between Taiwan and Canada are cordial. Taiwan and Canada are like-minded countries that share values such as democracy, the rule of law and human rights,” Ms. Ou said.

“Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has publicly recognized Taiwan’s democratic system and endorsed Taiwan’s meaningful participation in multilateral international forums. Taiwan is grateful for Canada’s long-standing support of Taiwan’s participation in international organizations. In line with shared values of freedom and democracy, Taiwan will continue to maintain close contact and cordial ties with the Canadian government, the [Halifax Forum] and other friends from all sectors of Canadian society.”

Robin Shepherd, vice-president of the Halifax forum, would say only that the organization has not yet announced the winner of the 2020 John McCain Prize for Leadership in Public Service.

“We look forward to making the announcement and conducting a presentation event at an appropriate time, given the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic presents,” Mr. Shepherd said.

He added that Ms. Tsai would be “certainly be an ideal fit” for this award.

“President Tsai of Taiwan is a well respected international leader, the first female president of Taiwan and a strong global advocate for democracy.”

Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong accused Mr. Trudeau’s government of “acquiescing to China by threatening to pull support for the Halifax forum.”

NDP foreign affairs critic Jack Harris said if there is any interference taking place then it’s wrong because Ottawa should not be telling the forum how to run its affairs.

Mr. Chong said the annual forum, held each fall in Halifax, brings together politicians, soldiers and analysts from democratic countries, and “is among the free world’s most significant defence meetings” and that an award for Ms. Tsai would be “an indicator of how the free world is united against China’s bullying tactics.”

He said the Liberal government’s apparent attempt to silence those critical of China is “shameful and plays into the hands of the Communist leadership of China.”

Two ministers from Taiwan’s government spoke at the November, 2020, Halifax forum, which was conducted online rather than in person because of the pandemic.

Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu spoke during an off-the-record session, according to the forum’s agenda, and Taiwan’s Digital Minister Audrey Tang spoke at a session on intellectual property.

With a report from Reuters

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Report an error

Editorial code of conduct