China’s Foreign Ministry issued an angry response on Monday to a Taiwan visit by former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper, with Beijing saying it has made its displeasure known to Ottawa.
Mr. Harper became the first former Canadian prime minister to set foot in Taipei last week when he spoke at a conference organized by a government-backed think tank. He also met Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen. The former Conservative leader said he travelled in a personal capacity, promoting his consulting business and a book he published last year.
But China says it vigorously opposes the trip, which observers said provided a measure of support to Ms. Tsai, who has watched Taiwan lose seven diplomatic partners during her presidency.
“China expresses strong dissatisfaction with the relevant Canadian person’s visit to Taiwan and has lodged serious representations to the Canadian side,” China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement to The Globe and Mail.
“We urge Canada to fully recognize the sensitivity and complexity of the Taiwan issue, to earnestly abide by the one-China principle and properly handle Taiwan-related issues,” the Foreign Ministry said.
Taiwan is a self-governing region with a vibrant democratic government that Beijing regards as a splinter province. China’s leaders have never ruled out the use of force to politically unify Taiwan with the mainland. Beijing has taken an increasingly hard line on Taiwan following the election of Ms. Tsai, because it sees her Democratic Progressive Party, or DPP, as supporting independence.
Mr. Harper has also travelled to Beijing after his time in Canadian politics to pursue his business interests.
But he is not the only foreign leader caught in the crossfire with Taiwan. On Sunday, Sean Patrick Maloney a U.S. Democrat in Congress, described how a bipartisan delegation was denied visas to China because of a planned visit to Taiwan. “Chinese officials told members of my staff on multiple occasions that if I cancelled the trip to Taiwan, I would be granted a visa. This was visa blackmail,” he wrote in The Wall Street Journal, describing how officials said they would relent if he publicly endorsed Beijing’s understanding of its sovereignty over Taiwan through the “one-China policy.”
He likened the Chinese pressure over Taiwan to other Beijing efforts to shape international rhetoric on issues such as protests in Hong Kong and the detention of Muslims in the northwestern Xinjiang region.
“As … American companies have learned, China deems these ‘sensitive’ topics off-limits for anyone seeking to engage commercially with Beijing,” Mr. Maloney wrote. But, he warned, “ham-handed and obtusely enforced pressure campaigns, such as the one targeting my delegation, will invigorate congressional support for Taiwan.”
Mr. Harper made no such direct attack on Beijing in Taiwan, where he spoke at the Yushan Forum. Instead, he offered a veiled criticism of China’s economic model, speaking out against countries whose “trade strategy is about accumulating perpetual large surpluses.”
Although Mr. Harper did not name China, he suggested increasingly serious consequences if such practices persist.
”Frankly, I will predict that the backlash will be bigger from Western countries than anything we have seen so far,” he said.
The Yushan Forum is backed by the Taiwan-Asia Exchange Foundation, whose board is dominated by officials from the Taiwan government.
Mr. Harper has travelled the world to promote his book, Right Here, Right Now, which examines populism and threats to Western democracies.
In Taiwan, he also met with Wu Den-Yih, the chairman of the Chinese National Party, or KMT, the chief political opposition to Ms. Tsai’s DPP. The KMT is a member party of the International Democratic Union (IDU), an international group dedicated to boosting the electoral success of right-wing groups around the world. The IDU’s founding members include Margaret Thatcher and George H.W. Bush. Mr. Harper is its current chairman.
Mr. Wu and Mr. Harper had a “good discussion about the upcoming IDU Forum in Washington, D.C. this December and our efforts to build the global alliance of centre-right parties,” Mr. Harper wrote on Twitter. He has not responded to Globe requests for comment.
Canada’s Foreign Ministry distanced itself from Mr. Harper’s trip to Taiwan, which “was undertaken in his personal capacity as a private citizen,” Global Affairs Canada spokesman John Babcock said in a statement. “The Government of Canada was not involved in the planning or facilitation of this visit in any way.”
J. Michael Cole, a Taipei-based Canadian scholar who is a senior fellow with the Macdonald-Laurier Institute as well as with the Global Taiwan Institute, noted: “Beijing, as we know, bristles at any notion that the Taiwanese government could have interactions with top foreign officials, current or former.”
It is “because such behaviour tends to get it what it wants: governments back off, and there is no resulting engagement with Taiwan,” he said.
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