OTTAWA—As Canada grapples with China’s hostage diplomacy and trade restrictions on agri-products, it must also do more to support Taiwan’s inclusion in multilateral institutions, according to an expert panel hosted by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute (MLI) on Sept. 12. The two objectives attack a common global concern from different angles—China’s geopolitical aggression and its indifference to international norms.
The week’s issue at hand is China’s excluding of Taiwan from participating in the 40th Triennial Assembly in Montreal for 11 days starting Sept. 24. The forum is held by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a U.N. agency.
Taiwan, a democratic nation of 23.5 million, has no say at the ICAO or the U.N. due to the “One-China” policy. Mainland China is steadfast in believing that it speaks for the island in diplomatic spheres.
Taiwan’s airports service 1.7 million flights and nearly 70 million passengers annually—almost comparable with France. The country’s ability to protect its citizens by accessing critical information on airline safety and security is being scuppered by China. Experts say that this, in turn, could affect Canadians.
“Taiwan makes possible our lifestyle,” said Scott Simon, co-chair of Taiwan studies at the University of Ottawa, in an interview. He points to the cellphones and laptops used by the average Canadian every day that pass through Taiwan’s airspace as part of global supply chains.
“It’s a risk, and because it’s a risk, we don’t see it,” Simon said about Taiwan continuing to be excluded form the ICAO.
If France were excluded from the ICAO, people would be up in arms, Simon adds. Taiwan needs to attend in order to properly manage the highly active airspace above its territory.
Taiwan actually helped found the ICAO, which now has 193 other member states, back in 1944. Thus, the ICAO predates the U.N. and the communist takeover of China. Headquartered in Montreal, the organization has been headed by secretary general Fang Liu from China since 2015.
The situation with Taiwan and the ICAO is but one instance of a larger issue. It represents another battleground through diplomatic channels with which countries like Canada can stand up to China by championing Taiwan’s participation in multilateral fora.
That Taiwanese experts, officials, and even journalists continue to be denied entry to the U.N. because of their nationality is also another example of the world not getting tough with China.
Other than the United States addressing China’s non-tariff trade barriers, every country would rather follow than take the lead when it comes to confronting China, says Charles Burton, an MLI senior fellow who was once a Canadian diplomat in Beijing.
“It’s all talk. Nobody wants to be the one that sticks their necks out for fear of Chinese retaliation,” Burton said.
For example, the global community’s response to China’s cultural genocide in Xinjiang of Uyghurs is appalling, Burton added.
But cracks are starting to be seen in China’s authoritarian regime, because of the street protests in Hong Kong.
“While authoritarian systems can be efficient, their periods of adjustment are prone to violent transformation, creating deep global insecurity, which is what I think we’re looking at happening with China,” said Shuvaloy Majumdar, an MLI senior fellow who heads the institute’s centre for the Canada’s interests abroad. Democracies have a much better ability to adjust and respond to problems, he says.
China’s influence at the UN is problematic, to say the least.
“One country now has the power to veto decisions that affect us all, from disease control to air safety, the tracking of international terrorists, to global warming. Through our inability to push back, we have given an autocratic regime the power to create a dangerous blind spot in the international system,” wrote Taiwan expert and author J. Michael Cole in an MLI editorial.
Suggestions for Canada
“Canadians are ready to hear more about Taiwan because of what they’re hearing about China,” said Margaret McCuaig-Johnston, a distinguished fellow with the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.
Global Affairs Canada has stated, “Canada supports Taiwan’s meaningful participation in international organizations where there is a practical imperative and where Taiwan’s absence is detrimental to global interests.”
The Canadian government is starting to get the message, but more is needed to pressure China. The ways in which it has supported Taiwan have manifested through both diplomatic and military channels.
It has twice sent ships through the Taiwan Strait, and it has taken preliminary steps toward the potential inclusion of Taiwan in the trade agreement between Canada and 10 other countries in the Asia-Pacific region, known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
Isolating Taiwan is but one of China’s tactics. It has also clearly indicated that it is ready to invade Taiwan in the very near future, and Simon says Canada has a role in preventing a war, but its military budget needs to step up.
“We are there but we just need to have more resources,” he said. “Canada is not carrying its weight right now.” Canada’s military spending as a percentage of GDP is a paltry 1.3 percent, but it used to hover near a more respectable 2 percent in the 1980s.
A good model for Canada to follow in its relationship with Taiwan is Japan. Geographic proximity is obviously helpful, but the Japanese have plenty of investments in and agreements with Taiwan and, in particular, experience dealing with China on hostage cases.
Simon adds that cooperating with Japan is effectively cooperating with Taiwan and is another avenue to deal with the belligerence of China.
The panel was in unanimous agreement that Canada’s Magnitsky Act (Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act) should start with China’s ministry of state security. Not a single Chinese individual has had his or her properties or bank accounts in Canada frozen by the Canadian government for violations of human rights under the act. Ottawa has already used this legislation to sanction officials from Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and Russia.
Experts say there are at least 10 other arenas denying Taiwan representation. They include INTERPOL and the World Health Organization.