Ambassadors, opposition denounce 'shameful' Liberal posture toward China following Taiwan report

According to an article, federal officials threatened to pull funding to the Halifax International Security Forum if it gave an award to Taiwan's president Tsai Ing-wen

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OTTAWA — Former ambassadors and opposition members of Parliament called the Liberal government’s posture toward China a “disgrace” and “shameful” following a media report that said government officials had sought to block the president of Taiwan from receiving an award in Canada.

According to a report by Politico, federal government officials had threatened to pull funding to the Halifax International Security Forum if it awarded its John McCain Prize for Leadership in Public Service to Tsai Ing-wen, the president of Taiwan. The report attributed the Liberal decision to a fear of offending the Communist Party of China, which has for decades sought to reclaim Taiwanese territory as its own.

Guy Saint-Jacques, a former Canadian ambassador to China, said the report suggests the Liberal government had not just stayed silent on the issue of Taiwan, but had gone out of its way to avoid upsetting Chinese leadership.


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“It would have been easy for the government just to keep quiet on this and let the award process go forward,” Saint-Jacques said, adding that Ottawa could have rightly claimed that the prize was awarded by an organization that is purportedly beyond government control.

He said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau needs to align himself more clearly with U.S. President Joe Biden, who has been much more explicit and direct in his comments toward China, and particularly on Taiwan.

“The government has to take action so it can be seen as being a lot more supportive of Taiwan,” he said. “I’ve been saying for a long time we have to drop the white gloves and be a lot more forceful and firm in our actions with China.”

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Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan rejected the “absolutely false” claims that the Liberal government had threatened to pull funding if Tsai was given the award, saying the body determines recipients on its own.

“The Halifax International Security Forums is an independent organization and they make their own choices with regards to the award,” he said.

The Forum is an annual event attended by highly influential military officials and politicians.

It had awarded the John McCain prize just twice before, and was planning to award it to Tsai the third time for her courage in guarding against the COVID-19 pandemic and in standing up to repeated Chinese aggressions, according to the Politico report. Tsai was re-elected as president last year by a sizeable margin, in large part based on a promise to defend Taiwan’s independence from China.

David Mulroney, another former Canadian ambassador to China, called the report a “national disgrace” on Twitter Monday.

“Canada’s Feminist Foreign Policy has no room for one of the most courageous, principled, and seriously threatened women on the planet,” he said.

Beijing has long tried to gain political control over the self-governing democracy of Taiwan, and Chinese president Xi Jinping has made the reunification of the state a central part of his “China Dream” of national revival.

China in recent weeks has stepped up symbolic efforts over its sovereignty claim of Taiwan, regularly flying military jets through Taiwanese airspace on several occasions. Many observers view the aggressions as a test for Biden, who has denounced the moves. China has framed what it considers to be its sovereignty over Taiwan as non-negotiable, driving fears that the situation could escalate into deeper conflict.

Adding to criticism levelled by former ambassadors on Monday, opposition members and other observers also called out the Trudeau government, saying his weak foreign policy tactics run counter to his government’s feminist and pro-democracy talking points.


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“Absolutely pathetic — Canadian government is a bunch of cowards condoning Chinese genocide,” Meghan McCain, daughter of the late U.S. senator after whom the award is named, said on Twitter.

“Instead of supporting the people of Taiwan, the Trudeau Liberals have threatened to pull support from the forum if the organizers went ahead with the award,” said Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong. “This attempt to silence those critical of China is shameful. Canada should support those who stand up and speak out against the Chinese Communist Party’s violations of human rights and international law.”

Government officials, as well as organizers of the Halifax forum, did not verify the Politico report.

Robin Shepherd, vice-president of the Halifax forum, would only say that the forum has not yet announced a winner of the 2020 John McCain award. A recipient would be announced “at an appropriate time” in the future, Shepherd said in a written statement.

“President Tsai of Taiwan is a well respected international leader, the first female president of Taiwan and a strong global advocate for democracy,” the statement said. “She would certainly be an ideal fit for this award.”

A spokesperson for Sajjan said the government already provided its annual funding to the forum late last year, which it supplies through the federal Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. Several officials who spoke with the National Post would not confirm whether the Liberals had threatened to pull funding.

“The Government of Canada has provided financial support through a contribution agreement with the Halifax International Security Forum for the 2020 conference,” spokesperson Todd Lane said in a statement. “That money was given to the Halifax International Security Forum last year prior to the conference.”

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