Pandemic Is Canada’s ‘Moment of Reckoning’ on China Relations, Says Taiwan Expert

April 29, 2020 Updated: May 20, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic should serve as a “moment of reckoning” for Canada and other democracies that continue to pander to the Chinese regime, says J. Michael Cole, a Taipei-based senior fellow with the Macdonald-Laurier Institute in Ottawa.

“I hope that the whole COVID-19 outbreak serves as a moment of reckoning among democracies that we need real leadership,” Cole said in an interview with The Epoch Times’ American Thought Leaders program.

“We need real candidates with real ideas, and maybe people who are a bit more willing to challenge the status quo that the Chinese [regime] has imposed on us in recent years.”

Ottawa needs to take stock and “think seriously about who its real friends are,” adds Cole, and align with countries that “truly reflect the values and morals that define us as Canadians.”

Cole is a senior fellow with the Global Taiwan Institute in Washington, D.C., the Macdonald-Laurier Institute in Canada, and the Taiwan Studies Programme at the University of Nottingham in the U.K. He is also a former analyst at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service in Ottawa.

Epoch Times Photo
J. Michael Cole, a senior fellow with the Global Taiwan Institute in Washington, D.C., and the Macdonald-Laurier Institute in Ottawa, at his home in Taipei. (The Epoch Times)

Whistleblower doctor Li Wenliang, a 34-year-old ophthalmologist at the Wuhan Central Hospital, was among the first to publicize information about the outbreak in Wuhan. He and other medical professionals were silenced by the regime, and Li later died of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly called the novel coronavirus.

As reported previously by The Epoch Times, the Wuhan Health Commission originally stated that the first patient exhibited symptoms in early December, but only revealed the outbreak to the public on Dec. 31, 2019.  The authorities also initially denied that the disease could be transmitted between humans, although Taiwan officials said they warned the WHO of human-to-human transmission as early as Dec. 31 based on their own investigations.

As evidence mounts that the regime’s coverup and mishandling of the outbreak allowed the CCP virus to spread around the world, several Western countries such as the United States and Australia have openly criticized the regime and called for investigations into its handling of the outbreak.

But as Canada’s COVID-19 cases edge toward 50,000 with over 2,700 deaths, Canadian officials have largely remained silent on Beijing’s role in sparking the global pandemic, with some even praising the regime’s efforts.

CCP’s Influence at UN Agencies

Calls for an investigation into the Chinese regime’s influence at the World Health Organization (WHO) and the organization’s initial failure to warn other countries of early evidence of the outbreak in Wuhan have cast light on Beijing’s sway over the WHO and other top U.N. agencies.

“There are a number of specialized U.N. agencies that are currently either headed by Chinese nationals—oftentimes who were elected due to pressure behind closed doors by the Chinese—or individuals who are not Chinese nationals but for some reason, possibly co-optation, are also acting at the behest of the CCP,” Cole said.

Questions have been raised about WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus’s background, including the controversy surrounding his involvement in denying cholera outbreaks when he was working as a top official in Ethiopia’s authoritarian government. The Ethiopian government also has close ties to China, and Tedros was a member of the Marxist/Maoist Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, a political party that has been listed as a perpetrator in the Global Terrorism Database.

Cole said Tedros was the CCP’s favoured candidate for WHO director.

“[Beijing] seems to have used their large influence at the General Assembly, United Nations, and particularly African votes, to make sure that its preferred candidate, Mr. Tedros, was elected,” he said.

“From the outset, he had made it clear that he would respect Beijing’s so-called One-China principle, that he would not be open to ways by which Taiwan could play a role within the organization, if only as an observer.”

Taiwan’s example in deftly dealing with the pandemic has served to highlight the WHO’s lack of effectiveness and transparency. The WHO doesn’t recognize Taiwan as independent from China, so Taiwan is one of the only nations in the world that isn’t an official member of the organization. Yet despite its proximity to and business ties with mainland China, Taiwan has ranked among the best in the world in controlling the spread of COVID-19, with only 429 confirmed cases and six deaths.

The key to Taiwan’s strategy was officials’ ongoing suspicion of Beijing, which sparked the decision to conduct independent investigations into the outbreak early on, ban flights from China’s affected areas, and track travellers between the two countries.

The fact that a country that isn’t a WHO member has fared so well in dealing with COVID-19 “raises a bunch of questions” about the utility of the WHO and the amount of money it receives, says Cole, adding that he doesn’t support permanent defunding of the WHO at this stage.

Ottawa has followed the WHO’s recommendations since the pandemic began and has largely remained firm in its support of the organization. However, Health Minister Patty Hajdu said on April 28 that Canada remains “open” to reviewing the WHO’s actions in response to the pandemic. This comment came amid mounting criticism of the handling of the outbreak by both the Chinese regime and the WHO.

“The Trudeau administration has faced a fair amount of criticism over its seemingly pro-Beijing signalling throughout the crisis,” said Cole, “They have been very, very careful to not alienate Beijing, and that policy precedes COVID-19 as well.”

Rethinking China Strategy

As the world has watched Taiwan’s success in combating COVID-19, some countries such as the United States, Japan, Italy, and France are now consulting with Taiwan directly to see what can be learned from its approach.

Canada should also learn from Taiwan, said Cole, and partner with countries that represent Canadian values when seeking strategies to combat COVID-19, instead of aligning with Beijing.

“I don’t think any country can completely decouple from China—but certainly find alternatives so that our entire policies are not held hostage,” he said.

“There are alternatives out there. But we’re so deflated as democracies right now that the easiest way is just to give in to China, remain silent on a few issues, and then we’re going to get the masks and then we’re going to get this and get that.”

As China seeks to deflect blame for the pandemic, it has tried to boost its image by exporting medical equipment to other countries. The effort has backfired somewhat, however, as the equipment has often turned out to be faulty.

Last week, approximately one million face masks that arrived in Canada from China could not be used because they did not meet Health Canada standards. Canada continues to purchase from China much of the protective medical equipment needed in the fight against COVID-19.

Meanwhile, Taiwan has ramped up its production of surgical masks to 15 million per day and has been shipping masks around the world for free in efforts to demonstrate the island nation’s value to the international community.

Now is the time for Ottawa to rethink its China strategy, said Cole, and leverage our natural and technological resources to push back against intimidation.

“The problem is that, especially countries like Canada, we’ve never tested the waters. The moment Beijing threatens something or expresses displeasure, we back off and Beijing gets what it wants.

“But leaders often forget, especially countries like Canada: China needs our natural resources. China wants access to certain technologies that its own people still cannot produce. So it needs us at least as much as we need it,” he said.

“So that should give us the ability to push back on fundamentals and values that are dear to us. … In that kind of response, ultimately, I think we’re going to be stronger as a society.”

Follow Jan on Twitter: @JanJekielek