Taiwan has a lot of strategies for how to deal with China’s aggressive posture, as the Communist regime in Beijing continues to threaten the democratic island nation. And one of those strategies involves increased ties with other nations, including Canada.
But it’s something that’s already going on, says a representative of the Taiwanese government station in Toronto. Their hope is just that now, as Canada is coming to terms with its own increasingly difficult relationship with China, that process will speed up.
“The two sides already have a close relationship – people to people, business to business, even if it’s not much government to government,” says Jin-Ling Chen, director general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Toronto, in a wide-ranging interview with True North.
Chen explains that there are over 50,000 Canadians currently living in Taiwan, which despite its small geographic size boasts a population of around 25 million.
As for businesses, Chen cites how Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (known as TMSC), the largest chip manufacturer in the world, has a design department in Ottawa. Although she’s hopeful that businesses from both countries can start doing more work and manufacturing in each other’s countries.
“I’m always urging officials in the Ontario government for the province to set up its own investment office in Taiwan,” Chen says of one possibility, noting how Alberta has already opened such an office in the capital city of Taipei.
Right now, Taiwan finds itself in a difficult situation as China ramps up the rhetoric threatening an invasion. China has also been sending dozens of jets into Taiwan’s air defence zone in recent months. It’s all because the Chinese Communist Party believes that Taiwan – which has a democratically elected President – is a wayward province that must soon be absorbed into mainland China. But the residents of Taiwan – as well as their Western supporters – simply want the status quo maintained.
President Joe Biden has made it clear that he disapproves of authoritarian leader Xi Jinping’s language on Taiwan and has signaled that the U.S. would defend the island in the event of a conflict. But it’s also believed that Russia’s poor performance in its slow attempt to take western Ukraine has caused China to second guess its ability to successfully execute an amphibious invasion.
It’s amidst this turmoil that the Taiwanese government clearly sees an opportunity to score more allies and more formal recognition. While they were once almost entirely ignored from the international stage – they don’t have a seat at the United Nations and most countries, including Canada, don’t have formal ties with them – they’re optimistic things will change.
Director General Chen points to how political delegations from the United States, Canada and European nations all visited Taiwan this year.
While a lot of noise was made about U.S. Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan this summer, Chen points out that Liberal MP Judy Sgro led a delegation in October that included Conservative and Bloc MPs. “Everything was fine,” Chen remarks of that trip.
The other big move that Taiwan sees as a gesture of solidarity from the West is how American and Canadian naval vessels have recently engaged in freedom of navigation exercises through the Taiwan Strait, the 150 kilometre wide body of water between the island and mainland China. While the strait is international waters, China makes it clear they think it’s their terrain and aren’t pleased when other countries traverse it.
Chen is also hopeful that Canada will formalize a bilateral trade agreement, after talks on the matter began earlier this year. Taiwan is also pitching to be included in the Trans-Pacific trade deal (known as CPTPP), although China wants in as well.
Just a year ago, it would have seemed highly unlikely that the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would side with Taiwan against China’s wishes. But things are beginning to change.
Chen says the Taiwanese government took note of Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly’s recent comments labeling China an “increasingly disruptive” force. Other cabinet ministers have also spoken of the need to decouple from China.
“We see fellow democracies unite to support peace and stability,” Chen says of these recent changes. “Taiwan is the very front line in defending democracy in the Indo-Pacific.”