We need new trading partners and likeminded allies such as Taiwan in our corner to counter China and advance Canada’s interests, writes Scott Simon in the Vancouver Sun

By Scott Simon, December 21, 2020

Canada benefits most from close relationships with countries that share our values. One such country that engages in fair economic practices, promotes health security, and fosters geopolitical stability is Taiwan. However, this proven, reliable, and willing partner remains unrecognized by Canada as an important ally.

Worse still, Canada’s reluctance to turn to Taiwan comes at a time when we need all the partners we can get in the Indo-Pacific region. We are facing a persistent challenge from China in the forms of hostage diplomacy, regional aggression, economic coercion, human rights abuses, and more.

With that in mind, it is time to consider Taiwan.

There is much that Taiwan has to offer. For instance, Taiwan has done an amazing job of containing COVID-19. Even as cases soar, Taiwan to date has an accumulated case count of 618 and only seven deaths. Taiwan, from government and civil society, has donated over two million masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) to Canada and stands ready to share its public health expertise.

As we look toward a post-COVID economic reconstruction, we will need to make careful decisions about which countries to prioritize. Common sense would dictate that our needs are best met in a country with solid property rights, rule of law, and no track record of arbitrarily detaining Canadians for political purposes. Taiwan meets all those conditions.

Taiwan is a country of 23.6 million people and already Canada’s 12th-largest trading partner overall and the fifth-largest in Asia. Unlike China, Taiwan is a vibrant and progressive democracy, sharing many values with Canada. Indeed, it was the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage, and Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen made a historic apology to Indigenous peoples in 2016 and established the Indigenous Historical Justice Committee to promote truth and reconciliation.

Clearly, Taiwan is a ready and willing partner, and Canada has much to gain from cooperation. So, what’s the next step?

COVID-19 has not stopped other countries from deepening their relationships with Taiwan. President of the Czech Senate, Milos Vystrcil, led a delegation to Taiwan in September. Given China’s hostile diplomatic tactics to isolate Taiwan, Vystrcil’s delegation served as a bold act of solidarity. U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar and State Department Under-Secretary Keith Krach also visited Taiwan.

These leaders know that, when building relationships, it is important to show up in person. Canada could send a current or former minister or prime minister to discuss pandemic collaboration. We could return to negotiations for a foreign investment promotion and protection agreement. We stopped those talks in December 2018 when two Canadians were detained in China in retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou. It is not a good sign that we permit Canada-Taiwan relations to also be taken hostage.

As we work through a second wave of COVID-19, we must ensure that our fragile PPE supply chains are protected by drawing closer to our friends who produce surplus PPE. Canada should support Taiwan’s ascension to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, a move that Canadians broadly support.

Including Taiwan in multilateral institutions is difficult, because China bullies other countries into accepting Beijing’s absurd claims of de jure dominion over the island.

But Taiwan’s independent existence is a reality, and we need its contributions at the World Health Organization and the International Civil Aviation Organization to rebuild after COVID. Canada already expressed support for Taiwan’s meaningful inclusion, despite Chinese opposition. If China deepens its obstruction, we can react by investing more in the trade partnership and in bilateral relations with Taiwan. We need to deal with Taiwan on its own merits, which means no longer imagining it as an obstacle to relations with China.

We need new trading partners, strong advocates for the rules-based international order, and likeminded allies in our corner to counter China and advance Canada’s interests. We also need to work with successful countries if we are going to emulate their success in battling COVID-19.

Canada and Taiwan need each other. It’s time that our side wakes up to that reality.

Scott Simon is a professor in the School of Sociological and Anthropological Studies at the University of Ottawa, and co-holder of the uOttawa Research Chair in Taiwan Studies. He is a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.

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