Taiwan has finally become an ongoing public issue in Canada, due in part to its success in keeping out COVID-19, and the Chinese Communist Party’s successful efforts to offend just about everyone in Canada. Following the lead of right-wing US politicians, Canadian conservative pundits and Canadian Shadow Minister of Foreign Affairs Michael Chong (莊文浩) of the Conservative Party, politicians are urging Canada to “recognize Taiwan.”
There is a small problem here for Canada, which has a different history of relations with Taiwan than the US. For Canada to “recognize” Taiwan as things stand would be to re-recognize the Republic of China (ROC) from which it broke diplomatic ties in 1970. That is still the name of the state on Taiwan, which exists under the 1947 ROC Constitution. Readers in Taiwan do not need an explanation of the complications of this situation (see Taipei Times, “The ROC Constitution: Sense, caution,” May 6, page 8). For Canada to recognize that state would be the end of its relations with the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
Why talk about “recognizing” at all? Canada’s “one China” policy already recognizes “Taiwan,” but not the ROC.
Canada’s unique “one China” policy exists only because of and for the sake of Taiwan. If in 1970 then-Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau had wished only to serve the commercial interests of calling to “recognize” the PRC, Canada could have just switched recognition with no reference to Taiwan — the same way Britain and France had done, but Trudeau was a leader who acted on principle and had a long view of history.
Canada’s Taiwan policy did not begin in 1970. It goes back to the 1950s. In 1955, then-Canadian secretary of state for external affairs Lester B. Pearson told the House of Commons that “certainly, in any decision regarding the future of Formosa the wishes of the people there, which are often forgotten in discussions of this matter, should be a primary consideration.”
In 1961, the Canadian representative in the UN said that “it is the firm opinion of my delegation that there must be preserved for the people of Formosa the right to self-determination, that is, the right to decide their own future.”
In establishing diplomatic relations with the PRC, most of the discussion was on the question of Taiwan. The proposal went to the Cabinet on Jan. 27, 1969, and it agreed that “Canada would recognize the Peking government as the only government of China, without necessarily accepting China’s territorial claims over areas in which it did not exercise jurisdiction.” The formula also allowed that Canada “might permit representatives of the Taiwan government to have a trade mission in Canada.”
In that Cabinet meeting, “the recommendation on Taiwan was amended to make it clear that Canada would not accept any commitment that precluded Canadian recognition of an independent state of Taiwan if this were at all feasible.”
China insisted that Canada recognize its claim to Taiwan, but Trudeau held firm and eventually, with the famous “takes note of” formula, China accepted Canada’s principled position. This truly deserves to be remembered as Canada’s greatest diplomatic triumph.
After 50 years of the “one China” policy, Canada has far better relations with Taiwan than with the PRC. Cabinet ministers visit Taiwan. Its de facto embassies are large, active and well connected. The head of its “trade office” in Taiwan visited President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) at the Presidential Office last year. The representative of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Canada is greeted as “Mr ambassador” by MPs on Parliament Hill. For 50 years Canada has always referred to Taiwan as “Taiwan,” not the “ROC” or “Chinese Taipei.” Nonetheless, Canadian governments always drag their feet on any advance in these relations.
Canada can do several things to strengthen its relationship, give real support to Taiwan and help create the conditions for future Canadian “recognition of an independent state of Taiwan” when political developments in Taiwan make this possible.
First, Canada can sign a foreign investment promotion and protection agreement with Taiwan, its 13th-largest trading partner.
Second, because of Canada’s efforts the Trans-Pacific Partnership became the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. Taiwan is more progressive than several of its current members. Canada can begin discussions with other members leading to membership for Taiwan.
Third, Canada can become much more active in supporting Taiwan’s participation in international organizations, not only the WHO and International Civil Aviation Organization, but also in non-governmental organizations that bow to Beijing’s demands to delist Taiwan.
Fourth, Canada’s respective diplomatic offices are titled “Taipei” because in 1986 the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government refused to use the name Taiwan. Times have changed. A change of one syllable can rectify the names to Canada’s usage — Taiwan.
These measures are all completely within the scope of Canada’s “one China” policy, and would do much more than political rhetoric about “recognizing” Taiwan. Is it too much to hope that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is his father’s son?
Michael Stainton is president of the Taiwanese Human Rights Association of Canada.
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