Canada and Taiwan make for perfect allies. It’s past time for decision-makers to consider seriously the true potential for this relationship, writes Brett Byers. 

By Brett Byers, July 2, 2019

Imagine a middle power with a robust, developed economy. Its most well-known city houses about 2.7 million people. It is a neighbour to a major world power, with whom it does most of its trade. It has a substantial Indigenous population, a rich multicultural society, and a well-educated workforce. You may be forgiven if you assumed this country is Canada. In fact, the description applies equally to Canada and Taiwan.

These striking similarities also encompass values, democracy, trade enthusiasm, and more. But what truly makes Canada and Taiwan such natural partners is the way their differences could complement one another.

Taiwan has an advanced high-tech economy. At a time when Canada is seeking to develop its 5G technology, Taiwanese telecom Chunghwa is collaborating with Nokia to build Taiwan’s 5G network.Given serious concerns regarding Huawei’s potential 5G involvement, in Canada and amongst its allies, Taiwan could hold the answer for resolving a challenging Canadian domestic policy problem.

Moreover, Taiwan lacks abundant natural resources in order to fuel its economic growth. As was demonstrated by the attack on an oil tanker chartered by Taiwan’s CPC Corp, Taiwan is dependent on Middle East oil and gas but has no mechanism to ensure its safe transit.

Conversely, Canada is one of the world’s biggest exporters of oil and gas, and shipping Canadian energy products from British Columbia to Taiwan would be both stable and secure.

Already, there is nearly $8 billion in bilateral trade between Canada and Taiwan, with Canada predominantly importing machinery, mechanical, and electrical products, and exporting mineral products and other resources. These sorts of comparative advantages undergird international trade; they make both economies run more efficiently and help improve consumer choice.

So if Canada is the salt to Taiwan’s pepper, why does the relationship remain modest?

The simple answer is that China has throttled most formal international engagement with, or recognition of, Taiwan based on the “One-China” policy. Taiwan represents an existential threat to the People’s Republic of China because it demonstrates that the success of Chinese people is not inextricably tied to oppressive authoritarianism.

To appease Beijing, Canada “takes note” of the One China policy, avoiding formal engagement with Taiwan. This has been the glass ceiling on the Canada-Taiwan relationship, but it does not have to be this way.

Many of Canada’s allies are pursuing closer economic, cultural, political, and security ties with Taiwan without triggering backlash from China.  Many are vocal supporters of Taiwanese participation in international fora like the WHA, ICAO, UNFCCC, and Interpol. Canada has latitude to follow suit.

Taiwan is a consumer of Canadian agricultural products, including pork and beef which were suspended from Chinese markets. Advocating for the Republic’s inclusion in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) to diversify trade within the region, but away from China, makes economic and geopolitical sense.

And Taiwan could also do more to engage with Canada. Through working with civil society organizations and deepening people-to-people ties, Taipei, the nation’s capital, can make more of a name for itself within Canada. More urgently, Taiwan could be instrumental in advising and assisting Canadian decision-makers on the best way to manage a tenuous relationship with China.

Despite a 12-hour time zone difference, Canada and Taiwan make for perfect allies. With shared values and complementary economies, the two countries are seemingly tailor-made for one another. It’s past time for decision-makers to consider seriously the true potential for this relationship.

Brett Byers is the communications and digital media manager at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. He was also a 2019 Mosaic Taiwan Fellow.

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