We must be aware of the dangers of a rising China and find a way to deter aggression across the Taiwan Strait, writes Scott Simon. This article is based on his remarks at a panel event at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute on April 16, 2019.
By Scott Simon, May 2, 2019
Canadians have, ever since the missionary efforts of the 19th century, taken Taiwan very closely to heart. Back when Canada was striving to find ways to welcome the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Hon. Paul Martin, Sr., as Secretary of State for External Affairs, cautioned about what recognizing China might mean for the former Japanese territory of Taiwan, where multilateral post-war treaties had implanted the Republic of China (ROC) without consulting the local people.
In Martin’s speech “Canada and the Pacific” at the 1966 Banff Conference on World Affairs, he said:
We consider that the isolation of Communist China from a large part of normal international relations is dangerous. We are prepared to accept the reality of the victory in mainland China in 1949…. We consider, however, that the effective political independence of Taiwan is a political reality too (italics added).
Knowing that the Taiwanese were under martial law and could not express their own opinions on decolonization, Canada’s Cabinet gave instructions in 1969 to its negotiators “to avoid any commitment that would deny Canada the possibility of recognizing Taiwan as an independent state at some time in the future if circumstances should make that feasible,” while stating that Canada intends to maintain de facto relations with Taiwan. They were no great admirers of President Chiang Kai-shek, an authoritarian leader who still claimed to be China’s only legitimate leader and vowed to take back the Mainland. Yet, historical circumstances limited options for foreign countries hoping to maintain relations with both jurisdictions.
This is the context in which Canadian and Chinese negotiators drafted the 1970 Joint Communiqué, which so famously established, “The Chinese Government reaffirms that Taiwan is an inalienable part of the territory of the People’s Republic of China. The Canadian Government takes note of this position of the Chinese Government.” Chief negotiator and Secretary of State for External Affairs Mitchell Sharp explained afterwards to a concerned Parliament that this means Canada will “neither challenge nor endorse” China’s position on Taiwan.
Continuity of this policy explains the statement of Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland on April 9, 2019 in the Senate, where she stated that “We continue to have strong and growing people-to-people ties with Taiwan within Canada’s ‘One China’ policy. We are absolutely committed to expanding those ties based on our shared values.” She showed support for Taiwan’s participation in the World Health Assembly.
Back in 1969, Canadian and Chinese negotiators alike had in mind three things:
- The PRC claimed Taiwan, but had not yet acquired it. This is why the PRC asked Canada to recognize their claim to Taiwan, but did not feel obliged to ask us to recognize their claim to Shandong.
- The ROC, still a member of the United Nations Security Council, claimed to be the government of all of China, and firmly insisted on being recognized as such, even though the PRC had ruled the Mainland already for 20 years. This was an increasingly untenable political fiction.
- There were 13.5 million Taiwanese who had never been consulted about whether or not they wanted to be part of either state that claimed to be the sole legitimate representative of China.
Canadian and Chinese negotiators came to the table with their different worldviews. Canadian negotiators still remembered that the ROC had been imposed on Taiwan by the Allies in 1945. Canada, after all, was a co-author and signatory of the Peace Treaty of San Francisco, in which Japan renounced Taiwan without specifying the claimant. Canadian negotiators were surely more sensitive to the fact that Taiwan was under martial law, which limited Taiwanese rights to expression and to self-determination. Canadian negotiators also knew that Taiwanese in exile, including in Canada, supported independence from the ROC. The Chinese side remembered very clearly that, with the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, US President Truman sent the Seventh Fleet to the Taiwan Strait and effectively put Taiwan under American protection. Chinese negotiators knew that Canada participated in the Korean War, seeing us as an enemy in recent years.
In these circumstances, Canadian negotiators carefully insisted upon ambiguous wording in the Joint Communiqué that would allow Canada and China to establish diplomatic relations by temporarily papering over a critical point of difference, while still avoiding commitment. China’s “One China” policy was thus that Taiwan is part of China. Canada’s “One China” policy meant that Canada would have diplomatic relations with one government claiming to be China and that this would be the PRC. Yet, Canada would remain neutral in regard to China’s claims to Taiwan. The danger here is that, since both countries use the words “One China,” Canadians can easily confuse the “One China” policy of Beijing and of Ottawa.
The world has changed since 1969. First of all, the PRC has become the world’s second largest economy and a military power that will, if current trends continue, eventually be able to enforce its claims beyond its current jurisdiction. In January of this year, Xi Jinping announced his will to use military means, if necessary, against Taiwan. China has subsequently made regular incursions into Japanese waters on the other side of Taiwan, including Coast Guard patrols in the Senkaku Islands on three consecutive days in the past week. On March 31, they tested Taiwan’s will by sending two military aircraft across the median line of the Taiwan Strait for the first time since 1999.
Second, Taiwan has blossomed into a full democracy, and has for all practical purposes abandoned its claims to the Chinese mainland. In 1969, our challenge was to welcome the PRC into the international community, with the hope that China and Taiwan would both democratize and peacefully reach an agreement. In 2019, China has not democratized but Taiwan has. The new challenge is how to deter Chinese military aggression.
How can we keep alive the hope of Paul Martin, Sr., to welcome the PRC into the international community while also recognizing the effective political independence of Taiwan as a reality on the ground? Even in the absence of official diplomatic relations, Taiwan has become Canada’s 11th largest trading partner and the fifth largest in Asia. There are currently over 200,000 people of Taiwanese descent living in Canada and about 60,000 Canadians in Taiwan – making it one of the largest Canadian expatriate communities in the world. The CTOT in Taipei is Canada’s fifth largest passport-issuing office outside North America. Over 100,000 visitors go in both directions each year.
Our two countries have collaborative projects in science and technology, human rights, indigenous cooperation, educational and youth exchanges, as well as other forms of multilateral work. For those of us who like our smartphones and computers, it is important to remember that the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company in Hsinchu is the world’s largest semiconductor foundry, and controls 55.9 percent of the world market. This is the status quo that we need to protect. It is obviously in Canada’s interest to deter war over Taiwan or a forced annexation that would cause a large refugee crisis and threaten our economic interests.
In this context, we must be aware of the dangers of a rising China and find a way to deter aggression across the Taiwan Strait. If we go back to our original intention to “neither challenge nor endorse” China’s claim to Taiwan, it behooves us to realize that a failure to challenge China on Taiwan has only led to an increase in military aggression and has not made them any kinder to us than they would otherwise be. If Chinese military aggression and other pressures on Taiwan continue to escalate, we may have to remind them that we do not endorse their spurious claim.
Scott Simon is Professor and co-holder of the Research Chair in Taiwan Studies at the University of Ottawa.
 Cited in D. Barry Kirkham, “The International Legal Status of Formosa,” Canadian Yearbook of International Law 6: 144-163, 1968.