Taiwan’s Foreign Minister says a trade deal with Canada is among the top ways Ottawa could help the self-governing island now as China ramps up efforts to isolate the territory and bring it under Beijing’s control.
Canada promised to begin exploratory talks on an investor protection deal with Taiwan in January but the federal government can’t yet say whether Ottawa is prepared to negotiate.
Joseph Wu, in an interview with foreign press in Taipei on Thursday, was asked what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau could do to help the Taiwanese.
He said a “big item” would be this foreign investment promotion and protection agreement, or FIPA, that could stimulate two-way trade by enshrining legal protections for Canadian investors in Taiwan as well as Taiwanese investors in Canada.
Such deals, often regarded as a stepping stone to a full free-trade agreement, would also help build economic ties with the Asian democracy of 24 million people as it faces an unrelenting campaign to isolate it.
China regards Taiwan as a renegade province, even though the Chinese Communist Party has never ruled the island since taking power on the mainland in 1949. It bristles against what it considers foreign interference in the matter and has reserved the right to use force to annex Taiwan, where Nationalist forces fled after they lost a civil war to the Communists.
China has been taking steps to cut off Taiwan from the international community, including denying it the chance to participate in global bodies such as the World Health Organization’s regular assemblies, and persuading those countries that recognize Taiwan as a sovereign country to sever relations.
In 2000, Taiwan had official diplomatic relations with 29 member states of the United Nations, as well as the Holy See, and today the number has dropped to 13 and the Vatican.
Canada has not recognized Taiwan as a sovereign state since 1970 when former prime minister Pierre Trudeau switched diplomatic relations to the Communist-led People’s Republic of China on the mainland.
International Trade Minister Mary Ng’s office said it had no response to Mr. Wu’s comments but in a statement to The Globe and Mail this month, Global Affairs spokesperson James Emmanuel Wanki said any decision on whether to start FIPA talks with Taiwan would be based on “Canadian commercial interests.”
In August, China’s People’s Liberation Army surrounded the island with warships and launched ballistic missiles over northern Taiwan to express its displeasure at U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei.
Mr. Wu on Thursday said Taipei would like Canada to keep sending its warships through the Taiwan Strait – a passage over which China claims sovereignty and jurisdiction. Canada and allies say there is a corridor in the Strait that is international waters and a Canadian warship makes the transit about once a year.
“It shows Canadian interest in maintaining peace and stability in this area and we hope the Canadian government can continue to do that,” Taiwan’s Foreign Minister said.
Mr. Wu said China’s military drills and other pressure tactics it employed in August were a rehearsal for an attack. “They used this to practise their playbook of their future invasion,” he said.
Canada has talked about a trade investment deal with Taiwan before.
Mario Ste-Marie was Canada’s top diplomat in Taiwan between 2015 and July, 2018. He said delays in commencing FIPA talks with Taiwan during his time in Taipei always stemmed from fear of upsetting relations with China. “There was always something happening: a major visit of a Chinese minister to Canada or vice-versa,” he said.
Mr. Ste-Marie, now retired, said Taiwan in 2016 agreed to lift a temporary ban on Canadian beef, which it had imposed after an outbreak of mad cow disease in Alberta, on the understanding that Ottawa would reciprocate by signing a FIPA with Taipei. “They reopened the market ... and then we had to deliver our part of the deal, which was a FIPA. But it didn’t happen.”
He said this type of agreement to protect foreign investors is not complicated and could be quickly completed. “Frankly, it’s a negotiation that would last 48 hours. It’s a template.”
Mr. Ste-Marie said he’s getting signals that the Canadian government may be more willing to move on the FIPA now. But until this point, he has not had high expectations.
“So personally, unless there’s a clear strategy, a will to move on it and political backup, I am pretty skeptical.”
He said it’s in Canada’s interests to sign a FIPA with Taiwan because it would better protect the rights of Canadian investors there.