China Spews Vitriol Over ‘Taiwan Night’ in OttawaFor 20 years Taiwan’s representative office to Canada has held its gala, described as a ‘big draw’ for Canadian MPs. But this year China cried foul
It’s not been a particularly good past couple of weeks in cross-strait relations, what with China’s “abduction” of 45 Taiwanese, elbowing out of Taiwan from a high-level OECD meeting in Brussels, and questions on whether Beijing will pressure the WHO and ICAO to block Taipei’s efforts to join the organizations as an observer. And now we’re learning that the Chinese embassy in Ottawa has blasted Canadian MPs and Cabinet officials for attending Taiwan Night 2016, an event hosted by the Taipei Economic and Culture Office (TECO) in Canada.
Described as an evening of food, drinks, and cultural performances, the April 13 dinner reception at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier in downtown Ottawa was attended by several serving and retired Canadian politicians. According to the Hill Times, Chinese officials were “angered” by speeches given by Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr and Public Services and Procurement Minister Judy Foote and infuriated when veteran Liberal Party MPs Hedy Fry and Wayne Easter referred to reality by calling Taiwan a country. Conservative MP Jason Kenney, a former minister of defense and immigration, described Taiwan as “the one-word rebuttal to the notion that Chinese culture is not compatible with democracy.”
However, all that goodwill and celebration of the shared values of democracy went down the wrong hole for Chinese officials.
“We express our strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition,” embassy spokesperson Yang Yundong (楊雲東) said, adding that the presence of Liberal MPs and officials in the Trudeau government at the event was “inconsistent with the new Liberal government statement on strengthening Canada-China relations.”
“The presence and speeches of Liberal government ministers at the Taiwan Night 2016,” Yang said, constituted “a serious breach of Canada’s repeated commitment to the one-China policy.”
The Chinese embassy has also made a solemn representation to the Canadian government.
Yang apparently didn’t get the memo that it is perfectly possible to strengthen ties with Beijing and to continue to have a constructive relationship, albeit an unofficial one, with a democracy of 23 million people and Canada’s 4th largest trade partner in Asia. About 60,000 Canadians, many of them dual citizens, currently live in Taiwan, while approximately 250,000 people in Canada are of Taiwanese origin.
The two relationships therefore need not be mutually exclusive, and it is quite clear that Ottawa will continue to place much greater emphasis on its relations with the People’s Republic of China — with which it could eventually sign a Free-Trade Agreement — than with Taiwan, whose engagement is expected to remain in the realm of “quiet diplomacy.”
What Yang also does not seem to realize is that Canada’s “one China” policy, which merely “takes note” of Beijing’s claim that Taiwan belongs to China, is for Ottawa’s to determine; in other words, there is nothing in Ottawa’s policy which dictates that Canadian officials cannot have relations with, or meet, Taiwanese officials. In fact, this has been going on for decades, and this month the Canadian Trade Office in Taipei (CTOT), Ottawa’s de-facto embassy to Taiwan, is celebrating its 30th anniversary.
In a later interview, Fry, who attended the elections in Taiwan in January and used the word country several times in her short speech on April 13, drew a distinction between “nation” and “country.”
“I just think Taiwan is a country. It’s separate from the mainland [China],” she said. “It has its own economic development plans, it has its own social infrastructure, and it elects its own president. So it’s a country, it’s not a nation, and therein lies a difference.”
This also wasn’t the first time that Canadian officials had attended an event organized by TECO. In fact, “Taiwan Night” is always a big draw for Members of Parliament in Ottawa. This year’s was the 20th such event. Only now, with China ostensibly keen on limiting Taiwan’s international space following the January elections in which the Beijing-friendly Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) was trounced, are Chinese officials making a fuss over such events.
According to Canadian sources, last year the Chinese embassy mobilized protesters against a talk at the University of Ottawa by Andrew Yang (楊念祖), a former minister of national defense and a current adviser to President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and the National Security Council in Taipei. Ottawa University was reportedly bombarded by e-mails and phone calls. Chinese officials assessed that Yang’s talk, which centered on World War II in China and the 70th anniversary of Japan’s defeat, was a veiled attempt to promote the Republic of China, Taiwan’s official name.
Let us hope the Trudeau government, which rode to power on a message of hope and change, has enough wisdom to “take note” of China’s protest and continue doing the right thing by maintaining that strengthening ties with Beijing need not be a zero-sum exercise at the expense of Canada’s continued relations for democratic Taiwan.
Not on my turf, Beijing.
J. Michael Cole is the editor-in-chief of Thinking Taiwan, a senior non-resident fellow at the University of Nottingham’s China Policy Institute, and an associate researcher with the French Center for Research on Contemporary China (CEFC) in Taipei.