There’s a reason democratization often happens in waves. It’s contagious. Countries learn from each other’s examples. Political pluralism in one country reinforces it in another. Authoritarians know this and react accordingly. A democracy next door threatens a despot, so he seeks to undermine it. Vladimir Putin of Russia may have pragmatic reasons to keep allied strongmen running countries on Russia’s periphery, but his opposition to the “Colour Revolutions” in places like Ukraine is also existential. He sees protesters in Kyiv and fears the same thing happening in Moscow.
Which brings us to Southeast Asia and the importance of Taiwan’s beleaguered democracy. The long-term viability of political freedom in the region will suffer an enormous setback if the Chinese Communist Party — having effectively crushed Hong Kong’s freedoms with a draconian National Security Law — successfully extends its reach to Taiwan.
Canada and other like-minded democracies need to wake up to the danger of democratic Taiwan and its de facto independence falling prey to China’s expansionist ambitions. If China succeeds in securing control over Taiwan, it would not only signal the end of freedom for Taiwan’s 24 million people, but also count as another blow to the rules-based international order and to global democracy.
Given the damage this month’s riot on the Capitol in Washington has done to America’s reputation as leader of the free world, Canada should take the initiative to form a coalition of like-minded nations to support Taiwan, a self-governing island with a freely elected democratic government and an important trading partner for Canada.
Tensions between China and Taiwan first arose in the 1980s, when China, which has always regarded Taiwan as a breakaway province, tried to impose the Hong Kong-style “one country two systems formula,” which Taiwan rejected. In 2005, China unilaterally passed a so-called “anti-secession” law stating that it has the right to use “non-peaceful means” against Taiwan if it tried to “secede” from China.
China’s authoritarian belligerence toward Hong Kong is a clear indication of its ambitions for Taiwan. The National Security Law, which came into effect in Hong Kong on June 30, 2019, effectively reduced Hong Kong from a semi-autonomous entity to a province of China. More recently, China arrested over 50 Hong Kong democracy activists.
Taiwan recognizes that China’s suppression of civil liberties in Hong Kong bodes ill for its own sovereignty. It has asked Canada and other democracies for support, including by sanctioning Chinese Communist Party officials involved in the crackdown in Hong Kong.
In an interview with the Globe and Mail, Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said China’s assault on his country has gathered momentum and takes the form of “grey zone tactics” such as cyber-attacks and disinformation, as well as overt military intimidation such as sending warplanes into Taiwanese airspace.
There are concrete measures Canada can take to help Taiwan, ideally in cooperation with other allies. Many of these centre on bolstering Taiwan’s international status — which would reinforce to China that some countries acknowledge and values Taiwan’s independence.
Canada, which has ratified the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Transpacific Partnership (CPTPP) with ten other countries, should persuade fellow signatories such as Australia, Mexico and Japan to include Taiwan in this agreement.
Welcoming Taiwan into the CPTPP would strengthen Taiwan’s economic independence, and it benefit Canada, too. If Taiwan gains access to CPTPP, it would be the fifth largest economy in the group, with only Japan, Canada, Australia and Mexico ahead of it. Taiwan’s economy can meet the high standards necessary for membership. It offers a major market for Canadian commodities and sells high-tech items such as semi-conductors that Canada currently buys from other countries.
The World Health Assembly, the decision-making body of the World Health Organization meets every May in Geneva, with delegations from all its member states in attendance. Last year, despite Taiwan’s exemplary management of COVID-19 and its offer to share its expertise with the world, it was denied even observer status at the virtual meeting because of pressure from China. The Canadian government must reiterate forcefully its call for Taiwan to gain observer status at The World Health Assembly.
Canada should also work to gain membership for Taiwan in the International Civil Aviation Organization, a body headquartered in Montreal.
Any of these measures may result in retaliatory ones from China. But Canada’s prosperity and influence in the world depends on an international order anchored in democracies. That order is under threat everywhere. Taiwan is holding the line in the face of considerable pressure from China. It is in our national interest to support it.