Feds stay committed to 'One China Policy,' but 'very concerned' about Taiwan
TORONTO -- Recent heightened tensions in the Taiwan Strait between Taiwan, the U.S. and China in light of Beijing’s rapid military acceleration in the area have put Canada’s policies and relationship to Taiwan in the spotlight.
The island nation is an economic powerhouse, especially when it comes to electronics and more specifically, microchips. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. is the world’s largest contract manufacturer of the chips that power phones, laptops, cars, watch and more. Canada imported goods worth more than $5 billion from Taiwan in 2020, according to Statistics Canada.
China has mounted air force missions into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone (ADIZ) with increasing frequency over the past year, with some 150 fighter jets, nuclear-capable bombers, anti-submarine aircraft and airborne early warning and control planes sent into the ADIZ in the first five days of October alone.
In response, the U.S. reiterated its commitment to the island nation. The U.S. has a long-standing relationship with Taiwan through the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 and the 2020 Taiwan Relations Reinforcement Act, but has been strategically ambiguous on how far the U.S. would go to defend it.
But on Oct. 21, U.S. President Joe Biden took a strong stance and said that America would come to Taiwan’s defence if it were invaded by China, but did not offer further details.
White House officials clarified, however, that there was no change in the U.S. government’s policy that does not support Taiwanese independence but is committed to providing defensive arms.
Senior U.S. military officers have been warning this year that China is probably accelerating its timetable for capturing control of Taiwan, which they consider a breakaway province – despite the Chinese Communist Party having never controlled it.
China has recently accelerated its spacecraft and military capabilities, including its recent test of a hypersonic missile weapon and satellite imagery showing an increase in construction of launch silos that may signal the country’s intent to increase its intercontinental ballistic missiles.
A nuclear weapons expert at the Federation of American Scientists said that China appears to have around 250 missile silos under construction, a marked increase. By comparison, the U.S. military has 400 active silos and 50 in reserve, according to the Associated Press.
U.S. critics of the Biden administration say his moves are tantamount to warmongering.
Canada raised eyebrows on the international stage when it sailed the frigate HMCS Winnipeg through the Taiwan Strait with the destroyer USS Dewey on its way to a UN security operation in mid-October. The move drew swift condemnation from Beijing both externally and in back-channel meetings between Canada and China.
Taipei-based senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute and the Global Taiwan Institute J. Michael Cole said in an interview with CTVNews.ca Monday that Canada’s sailing of HMCS Winnipeg through the Strait alongside a U.S. vessel was meant to send a message.
“It certainly was intentional, that is a way for Canada to demonstrate that it also is willing to play a role in this fledgling coalition of democracies that is increasingly active in this part of the world as a way to stabilize things and signal to China that belligerent behaviour would have consequences and repercussions,” Cole said.
Cole said that the recent increased frequency of China’s overflights in Taiwan’s ADIZ advances several objectives.
“This is part of efforts by the Chinese to familiarize themselves with the sea lanes near and around Taiwan [in case] of perhaps one day using force against it,” Cole said. “This is psychological warfare against the Taiwanese to reinforce intimidation and to signal to the international community that China will not be dictated to by countries like the U.S.”
The move also put Canada’s stance on Taiwan back in the spotlight after several years of a chilled relationship with China, sparked by the 2018 arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver and the subsequent detention of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig in China.
WHAT IS CANADA’S STANCE ON TAIWAN?
Canada follows a “One China Policy,” which acknowledges that there is only one Chinese government, does not recognise Taiwan as a sovereign state and does not maintain official government-to-government relations with Taipei.
This is different than Beijing’s “One China Principle” that insists Taiwan is a part of China and will be reunified with the mainland one day under the Chinese Communist Party.
The dispute over independence between mainland China and Taiwan stems back to the Chinese Civil War, when in 1949 the armies of Mao Zedong forced then-leader Chiang Kai-shek and the remnants his government known as the Kuomintang to retreat to Taiwan, where they declared it the Republic of China (ROC). The mainland under Mao became the People’s Republic of China (PRC), but that government was not internationally recognized until the ‘70s.
The ROC originally claimed to represent the entirety of China in 1949, held China’s seat on the UN Security Council and at the time was recognized by many nations as the sole Chinese government in power.
However, in 1971 the UN awarded diplomatic recognition to Beijing, forcing the ROC government out.
Taiwan’s status is a convoluted situation as it denies claims that it belongs to the PRC, has its own constitution, has been governed independently since 1949 and fiercely defends its current democratic status under the president Tsai Ing-wen. However, formal independence from the mainland has not been declared though Taiwan views itself as a sovereign state, despite its legal status being ambiguous.
On Oct. 13, 1970, when the Canadian government under Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau became the first Western nation to officially recognize the PRC as the sole legitimate government, severing diplomatic ties with the governing authorities of Taiwan which Canada had previously recognised as the ROC, it only “took note” of China’s claim on Taiwan, giving it significant wiggle room for diplomatic relations.
Canada maintains the “Canadian Trade Office” in Taipei as its way of fostering relations with its thirteenth largest trading partner, with priority sectors in aerospace, information and communications technology, agri-food and seafood products, biotechnology, clean technologies and energy.
In light of tensions ratcheting up in the Strait and with Private Member’s Bill C-315 or the “The Canada-Taiwan Relations Framework Act” which aims to “strengthen Canada-Taiwan relations” passing its first reading this summer, questions have been raised over whether Canada intended to alter its position on Taiwan.
In an emailed statement to CTVNews.ca, a spokesperson for Global Affairs on behalf of the new Minister of Foreign Affairs Melanie Joly put some of that speculation to rest.
“Canada’s One China Policy is clear. This position remains unchanged,” the statement reads. “We continue to closely monitor the situation in the region.”
“Canada is very concerned by recent tensions in the Taiwan Strait,” it continues.
The statement did not address several questions by CTVNews.ca if Canada would provide support, or what form support would take to Taiwan or its ally the U.S. in the event of military conflict, nor whether conversations or contingency plans in Ottawa were being drafted in light of the recent events.
“Canada continues to strongly support constructive efforts that will contribute to peace, stability and peaceful dialogue across the Taiwan Strait,” the statement said.
IS THERE A RISK OF A WAR OVER TAIWAN?
Despite saying the actions of China’s leader Xi Jinping are difficult to predict, Cole cast doubt on the idea that China would soon, if ever, attack Taiwan, saying the reputational, economic and military costs would be too high.
“Not to mention the huge uncertainty as to whether the U.S. and possibly Japan would also become involved if that were the case, the consequences for China would be quite disastrous as well,” he said, adding that as long as the deterrent and potential for U.S. involvement alongside countries like Australia, Japan and Canada was there, “the less likely it is that China would escalate to a point where the attacks start now.”
Cole’s colleague at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, University of Ottawa professor and co-holder of the Chair of Taiwan Studies Scott Simon agrees.
“China has a long-standing goal of annexing Taiwan, we should be honest about what this is all about,” Simon said in an interview with CTVNews.ca Tuesday. “They’re trying to convince the Taiwanese that it’s inevitable and that they should surrender without a war… to surrender without shooting a single shot.”
Despite what U.S. military officials may say, Simon doesn’t think an invasion by China is something that Taiwan will see in the immediate future.
“I don't see that happening,” he said. “The risks are too high and… defence experts tell us that in order to attack Taiwan, they would have to amass a large number of troops and ships to get them across the Taiwan Strait… that would be very visible from the air.”
IS IT TIME FOR CANADA’S POLICY ON TAIWAN TO CHANGE?
Simon said that there is room for Canada to “make some adjustments” in its relationship with Taiwan.
“I think we should take stock of where our relationship to Taiwan is beneficial to Canada,” he said. “[But] I think we can do that within our One China Policy, there are lots of areas for collaboration with Taiwan, upgrading our relationship, not being afraid to do things with that.”
Simon said there appears to be a “great fear” in Ottawa that any decision or change in the countries stance on Taiwan will upset China, leading to repercussions both politically and in business.
“When parliamentarians go to visit Taiwan, they don’t do it with Canadian funding, they end up doing it with Taiwanese funding because there’s a fear that Canada funding those trips would upset China,” he said.
Simon said that Canada’s One China Policy is a strategic balancing act where the government does not “endorse nor challenge,” but that silence is “conditional upon peace,” and despite China’s increase in what he calls “grey zone” tactics of airspace incursions and a beefed-up presence in Taiwan’s area, he does not believe that China has crossed the line to the point where Canada “can no long refuse to challenge China” on the matter.
But news that Chinese representatives in a recent back-channel meeting in Ottawa had privately admonished Canada for sailing the HMCS Winnipeg through the Taiwan Strait was dismissed by Simon.
“China really has no reason to be telling Canada not to go into international waters,” he said.
With files from Reuters and CNN