The Taiwan government is showing up in Montreal for a global gathering of civil aviation authorities this week despite China’s successful effort to ban it from officially participating in the event.
While Taiwan, a self-ruled island that Beijing regards as a wayward province, is forbidden from setting foot in the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) forum, Taiwanese officials have rented hotel rooms two blocks from the event to conduct their own meetings with foreign aviation counterparts.
Ho Shu-ping, deputy director-general of the Taiwanese civil aeronautics administration and the second-highest ranking aviation official in Taiwan, said meetings are planned with as many as 20 countries and aviation-related non-governmental organizations in Montreal.
She said it’s crucial that Taiwanese civil aviation officials meet with their counterparts in order to properly administer the airspace above its territory, noting that authorities in Taiwan responsible for the Taipei Flight Information Region provide air-traffic control services to nearly 70 million passengers each year.
But because China excludes Taiwan from the civil aviation organization, the island is denied real-time access to information on air traffic rule and regulatory updates.
“We came to Montreal to send a message,” Ms. Ho said in an interview. Taiwan’s airspace management is inseparable from the world’s air traffic management and it shouldn’t be denied full participation in aviation safety and security discussions, she said.
Taiwan, which helped found the ICAO, has been shut out of the body since the early 1970s when the United Nations voted to recognize the People’s Republic of China as the representatives of China to the United Nations. The ICAO, based in Montreal, is the UN agency that helps co-ordinate safe and secure civilian air traffic.
Both the Group of Seven industrialized countries, which includes Canada, and the Canadian government itself have called for Taiwan to be allowed to attend the ICAO gathering, which is the 40th session of the organization.
Scott Simon, holder of the co-chair in Taiwan studies at the University of Ottawa, said Taiwan appears to be trying to create space for itself at these ICAO meetings despite being denied entry. “What they’re trying to do is create an ICAO meeting where there are side events or alternative meetings where they can get to know representatives from other countries and kind of informally get a place at the table.”
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, former NATO secretary-general, this week chided countries for not pressing harder to enable Taiwan to participate in important United Nations forums such as ICAO. “Even though Taiwan is playing by the rules, the democratic world responds with indifference or even fear of upsetting China,” the former Danish prime minister wrote in The Globe and Mail on Monday. “It sends a signal that Beijing can demand and threaten its way around democratic capitals, especially as many investment hungry Western states allow themselves to become susceptible to Chinese investment, which has increased 1,500 per cent in Europe since 2010 alone.”
The ICAO did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.
Prof. Simon said China has campaigned to have Taiwan excluded from the ICAO. The island was officially invited to attend the 2013 civil aviation assembly, but this was not renewed after Tsai Ing-wen took office as President of Taiwan in 2016. Ms. Tsai has had a more strained relationship with Beijing than her predecessor.
Canada’s support for Taiwan’s inclusion is at odds with China. China’s embassy in Ottawa has said when it comes to international organizations only the People’s Republic of China speaks for China. Canada-China relations are strained after Canada’s arrest in December of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. extradition request. Beijing subsequently seized two Canadian citizens and ended purchases of canola seed and soybeans and banned Canadian imports of pork and beef.