Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was ridiculed of late for the clumsy staging of his odyssey to India. Perhaps what merits greater concern is the systematic neglect by both Liberal and Conservative governments of high-level relations with another democratic country in the Indo-Pacific — Taiwan.
In efforts to curry favour with Communist China, which claims Taiwan as its territory in spite of the fact that it has never governed the island, Canada strictly limits high-level contacts with Taiwan that would imply official state-to-state relations. Members of the Canada-Taiwan Inter-parliamentary Friendship Group visit annually, but the last visit by a cabinet minister was 20 years ago. Taiwan’s president, vice-president, premier and foreign minister are not allowed to enter Canada for any reason. These limitations restrict Canadian engagement with Taiwan. There are solid reasons to rethink this policy.
First, Canada and Taiwan share common values. Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen is a feminist, a supporter of LGBT rights, and an advocate of truth and reconciliation with her country’s Indigenous peoples. A Trudeau-Tsai meeting would thus be a meeting of like minds. Ministerial visits, e.g. between Taiwan’s Council of Indigenous Peoples and its counterparts in Canada would make it possible for us to exchange experience and strategies for advancing progressive political goals with less controversy. Considering that Taiwanese science is on the cutting edge of such fields as nanotechnology and semiconductors, it would be in Canada’s interest to have high-level contacts in science and technology.
Second, Taiwan is a wealthy country, with a median income (at purchasing power parity) of US$40,000. This means that a high percentage of its population of 23 million can afford to purchase Canadian consumer goods or enter Canada as tourists and students. It would be a wise investment for Canada to dedicate to Taiwan part of its $75 million budget for trade promotion in China and Asia. Taiwan would be a natural destination for a mission by our trade and agriculture ministers. We can also support Taiwan’s entry into the Comprehensive Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership.
The United States Congress and Senate, with bipartisan support in both houses, passed the Taiwan Travel Act encouraging high-level bilateral meetings between the U.S. and Taiwan. The U.S. already regulates relations with Taiwan through the Taiwan Relations Act. It is bound by that Act and the “six assurances” to defend Taiwan in the event of unilateral military action by China. The Taiwan Travel Act, if signed into law by Trump, upgrades U.S.-Taiwan relationships to a new level.
China’s Taiwan Affairs Office released an official statement on the Act, saying, “We also sternly warn Taiwan: do not rely on foreigners to build yourselves up, or it will only draw the fire upon you.” This harsh message reveals the fallacy of all hopes that an emerging China will learn to support the international liberal order. China is positioning itself to extend its authoritarian control beyond its current borders, even if that means taking military action.
Security is a third reason to support high-level exchanges with Taiwan. China claims not only Taiwan, but also parts of India and Japan. It has territorial disputes in the South China Sea with five other countries and has illegally built maritime military installations in those waters. Taiwan might be only a first step toward other expansionist ambitions.
If Canada and other countries follow America’s lead and permit high-level exchanges with Taiwan, it will send a clear sign to China that the world supports maintaining the geopolitical status quo that has underlined our shared economic prosperity for decades. Canada can play a meaningful role here. It’s time to start.