Days after China staged military drills for a possible invasion of Taiwan, a group of Canadian lawmakers delivered a strong message of support to the island’s President, Tsai Ing-wen.
Speaking alongside Ms. Tsai in Taipei Wednesday, Liberal MP John McKay said the cross-party delegation’s trip to Taiwan this week was “testimony to the concern that Canada has for the ongoing viability of Taiwan.”
“Taiwan’s issues are Canada’s issues, and Canada’s issues are Taiwan’s issues,” Mr. McKay said.
The visit was Ms. Tsai’s first major international engagement since she returned from a trip to Central America last week, where she visited two of Taiwan’s few formal diplomatic allies, Guatemala and Belize. She also stopped in the United States, in what Washington described as a “transit” rather than a formal visit, during which she met with Republican Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy.
In response, the People’s Liberation Army staged three days of drills around Taiwan. Senior Colonel Zhang Benming, a PLA spokesman, said Chinese forces “advanced toward and besieged the island from multiple directions,” testing their ability to stage precision strikes and blockade it from the air and the sea.
“The troops are ready and able to fight at any time to resolutely crush any form of attempt to seek ‘Taiwan independence’ and external interference, and they have the courage to fight and the mettle to win,” Col. Zhang said.
Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the drills, saying it was the “basic right of a sovereign nation and a long-standing practice” for the President to travel to other countries. It accused Beijing of using “any pretext to conduct military drills and undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”
On Wednesday, Ms. Tsai said Taiwan was facing “continued authoritarian expansionism,” adding that it was “even more critical for democracies to actively unite.”
She said Canada had “demonstrated its concern for peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait” with its Indo-Pacific Strategy, unveiled last year. That document promises that Canada will “work with partners to push back against any unilateral actions that threaten the status quo in the Taiwan Strait.”
Speaking to The Globe and Mail from Taiwan, Conservative MP Michael Chong, the shadow foreign affairs minister, said support for Taipei was strong and bipartisan in Ottawa. “There is broad agreement,” he said, pointing to a unanimous report published last month by a parliamentary committee examining Canada’s relationship with China.
That report calls for Ottawa to increase engagement with Taipei and “declare its clear and unwavering commitment that the future of Taiwan must only be the decision of the people of Taiwan.”
Mr. Chong said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and “Beijing’s increasing bellicosity in the Indo-Pacific region has woken up democracies to the fact authoritarian states are becoming a real threat and changed how democracies approach Taiwan.”
“Taiwan has long had to deal with Beijing’s meddling in its democracy, whether in terms of disinformation campaigns or other activities, and I think Canada could learn a lot from Taiwan about how to protect our citizens,” Mr. Chong said.
Mr. McKay agreed, telling The Globe that, “even five years ago,” most Canadians might not have identified with Taiwan. But after incidents such as the jailing of the “two Michaels” and recent allegations of Chinese interference in Canadian elections, “people are starting to realize that Taiwan may be at the forefront but that every nation in some respects is going to have to pick sides and be engaged.”
In meeting with Ms. Tsai, the lawmakers were joined by Jim Nickel, executive director of the Canadian Trade Office in Taipei, Ottawa’s de facto embassy. Like most countries, Canada does not have formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, as this would involve cutting off relations with Beijing, which claims the island as its territory.
The report last month urged the government to “strongly consider the benefits of diplomatic visits to Taiwan.” Until then, Mr. Chong said, parliamentary delegations have an outsized importance when it comes to building political, trade and economic ties with Taiwan.
Taipei and Ottawa are currently negotiating a foreign investment promotion and protection arrangement, and Ms. Tsai said her government also hopes Ottawa will support Taiwan’s application to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
Lev Nachman, an assistant professor in politics at Taiwan’s National Chengchi University, said the Canadian trip came at a helpful time for Taipei, given recent comments by French President Emmanuel Macron that Europe should avoid being “caught up in conflicts which are not ours.”
The apparent reference to Taiwan was greeted with glee by Chinese state media but dismay in many Western capitals. In a statement Tuesday, the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, a grouping of elected lawmakers, said Mr. Macron’s “ill-judged remarks not only disregard the vital place of Taiwan in the global economy, but undermine the decades-long commitment of the international community to maintaining peace across the Taiwan Strait.”
Prof. Nachman said this week’s visit demonstrated that “Canada still has Taiwan’s back, even if France is signalling a more apathetic approach.”