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An anti-government protester is seen holding a Taiwan national flag in an Oct. 10, 2019, file photo.

ATHIT PERAWONGMETHA/Reuters

The United States’ top policy adviser on China is urging Canada and other Western countries to deepen ties to Taiwan amid growing fears the democratic island of 24 million is Beijing’s next target after its recent crackdown on Hong Kong.

Western countries should be willing to defy Beijing and promote Taiwan as a “beacon of democracy” and an alternative to the authoritarian rule of China’s Communist Party, said Miles Yu, principal China policy and planning adviser to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in an exclusive interview with The Globe and Mail this week.

“Taiwan is a force for good in world politics. Its democracy is vibrant and its economy follows within the democratic market system,” Mr. Yu said. “Taiwan is a shining beacon of democracy in that region, which casts a very stark contrast to what is going on in mainland China.”

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Mr. Yu said Canada has much in common with Taiwan, including trade and cultural ties, even though Ottawa does not have full diplomatic relations since it recognized the People’s Republic of China in 1970.

China using warlike tactics against Taiwan, former defence minister says

“Absolutely, absolutely, Taiwan and Canada share the same values and the people in Canada are absolutely the preservers of freedom and democracy and Taiwan shares the same thing. You have Taiwanese businesses who have contributed greatly to the Canadian economy. You have Taiwanese academic exchanges with Canada,” he said. “Taiwan is a free society and this is the most important reason why people like the Canadian people should be involved.”

China has stepped up its threats to bring the self-governing nation under military control with bellicose rhetoric and large-scale war games near Taiwan, an island located 185 kilometres off mainland China. The Taiwanese state was established by Chinese Nationalist forces who fled the mainland when the Communist Party swept to power in 1949.

Beijing has also been using its diplomatic clout to block Taiwan from joining any international organizations that require statehood for membership. The U.S. has called for Taiwan to be readmitted to the 193-member United Nations.

Mr. Yu called China’s recent military aggression in the Taiwan Strait “an intimidation campaign" and a “knee-jerk reaction” to a U.S. decision to send a high-level State Department official to Taipei for the funeral of former president Lee Teng-hui, widely considered as Taiwan’s “father of democracy."

He noted that U.S. National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien expressed concern on Sunday that China’s imposition of a draconian national security law in Hong Kong is setting the stage for possible military action against Taiwan, which Beijing claims as part of its territory.

“I’m especially concerned about Taiwan given the behaviour of China in Hong Kong,” Mr. O’Brien told The Washington Times. “So, the next place they would look and the place they talk about incessantly is Taiwan.”

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The U.S. has vowed to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack or invasion.

“The Chinese government knows how we are going to respond to it. We have been telling them for decades,” Mr. Yu said.

He praised Canada for its plan to participate in U.S.-Japanese naval and land-based exercises from Oct. 26 to Nov. 5 within Japan’s and territorial waters amid growing tensions with China in the seas and airspace of East Asia. A Royal Canadian Navy Halifax-class frigate – HMCS Winnipeg – will take part in sea exercises.

Mr. Yu said the three-country exercises should be seen as “concerted efforts to uphold international law and particularly in navigation.”

On Hong Kong, Mr. Yu said it was up to Canada to decide whether to join the U.S. in imposing Magnitsky-style sanctions on Chinese officials for their role in the crackdown on Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms. Canada and the U.S. have adopted laws named after murdered Russian whistle-blower Sergei Magnitsky that allow for the freezing of assets and denial of travel visas to human-rights violators.

Canada has condemned China’s actions in Hong Kong but has not been willing to impose sanctions –perhaps out of concern for the safety of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. The two men were jailed in December, 2018, in apparent retaliation for Canada’s detention of Huawei senior executive Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. extradition request for alleged bank fraud relating to violations of American sanctions against Iran.

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Mr. Yu said Canada and other countries have tried to strike a middle ground between Beijing and Washington, but that approach no longer works.

“If China can do it to Hong Kong, which had been solemnly promised a high degree of autonomy, then China can do it for any other country and any other region as well,” he said. “Hong Kong is the symbol of China’s determination to confront the free world. So if you are part of the free world, like Canada and like the EU countries, join us.”

Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne is developing a new China policy that is expected to be unveiled later this year.

Roland Paris, a professor of international affairs at the University of Ottawa and a former foreign-affairs adviser to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, said it’s important for Canada to work with the U.S. and other allies to confront China’s increasingly aggressive behaviour.

“Clearly China is increasing its pressure on countries in the region, including Taiwan. It’s also true that there is no more sensitive issue for the Chinese than the status of Taiwan so while Canada and its allies need to work together to push back more clearly against China’s moves in many areas, we need to be fairly prudent as we move forward in our relations with Taiwan,” he said.

Prof. Paris said Canada should await the outcome of the U.S. election before deciding on what to do about Taiwan and how to respond to China’s belligerent foreign policy.

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Michael Kovrig has been in Chinese detention since December 2018, and has been even more cut-off from the outside world since the coronavirus pandemic emerged in China. His wife, Vina Nadjibulla, is spearheading efforts to have him released and returned home to Canada. The Globe and Mail

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