Recent events in the chilling relationship between Canada and China may just have soured Canadians’ appetite for a warmer relationship with China. The idea of a free-trade deal, which had been mused about and explored by the Trudeau government under their progressive trade agenda, seems unlikely in the near future. But the pumping of the breaks on the Canada-China relationship need not be a disaster; rather it should be an opportunity for reflection on our relationship with China and exploration of alternative partnerships in the growing Asia-Pacific region.
Taiwan boasts a robust economy, a vigorous democracy, and levels of freedom uncommon among the Asian Pacific countries. It recently became a pioneer as the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage. These factors suggest it would not be difficult to find common ground between Canada and Taiwan.
In the case of a Canada-China free trade deal, Canadians have become increasingly aware that in the case of any trade disputes, sanctions from China’s staggeringly huge economy would be devastating to Canadian business. In contrast, any sanctions that Canada could muster would be little more than an annoyance to a nation of 1.3 billion people. Furthermore, with reports of industrial espionage, and murky state-corporate relationships that raise security concerns, it is clear that Chinese and Canadian businesses are not following the same rule book.
When compared to Taiwan, a nation of 23 million with robust rule of law and freedoms, the scales look considerably more balanced. It is for this reason that further political and trade relationships with Taiwan should be explored as an alternative to potential downsides posed by closer ties with China. Perhaps the inclusion of Taiwan in the recently concluded Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership would open up Taiwan’s resource hungry high-tech industry as a viable market for Canadian exporters.
However, it should be noted that there are 3 main obstacles facing increasing Canadian ties with Taiwan.
The first is China itself, which maintains its territorial claim to Taiwan. We have seen increasing bullying by China of corporations that refer to Taiwan as anything more than a wayward province of the People’s Republic of China. Canadians must accept that deepening ties with Taiwan may further sour our relationship with China.
The second is the reaction of the mainland Chinese diaspora within Canada. There have been several reports of threats of violence and intimation to those displaying solidarity with Hong Kong democracy protesters in Canada. Tensions are already high among the Chinese diaspora community over Hong Kong, and policy makers should be cautious about policies that could conflict within diaspora communities.
Finally, the lack of recognition of Taiwan as an independent state by Canada makes diplomacy difficult. Canada was ahead of most of the West in recognizing the People’s Republic of China in 1970. At that time Canada ‘took note’ of China’s claim to Taiwan, but the lack of a proper endorsement of China’s claim gives Canada some room to manoeuvre.
As the situation in Hong Kong is eroding faith in the ‘one-country two-systems’ model, it is more than likely that coerced unification with China poses a serious threat to freedoms enjoyed by Taiwanese. A delegation from Taiwan has already been appealing to Canada for increased cooperation as Taiwan battles Chinese interference in their civil society.
The Canadian population has increasingly been demanding that our government form partnerships with nations than align with, rather than oppose, our values. Canadians and Canadian policy makers disturbed by events in Hong Kong should look towards a partnership with a corner of the Chinese-speaking world where liberal democratic values are entrenched, as a small but meaningful counterbalance to encroaching authoritarianism in the Asia-Pacific.
Zachary Poste is an MA student at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, Carleton University. He has an interest in diplomacy and the Asia-Pacific and his LinkedIn can be found here.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect iAffairs’ editorial stance.