Why Canada Should Embrace a Stronger Relationship with Taiwan

Updated: Mar 29

Opinion by Spyros Papoulias. This piece is part of Kroeger Policy Review's third issue on Canada-China relations. The full issue is available here.

On Dec. 13, 2020, Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry revealed that the country intended to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) [1]. Once Taiwan finishes its consultations with the 11 countries within the CPTPP, it plans to submit its application to become a part of the agreement [2]. However, several countries within the CPTPP are hesitant to make trade deals with Taiwan because of possible conflict and retaliation from China [3]. Canada, a member of the CPTPP is in this situation. Taiwan’s unique relationship with China poses potential challenges for Canada's already-strained relations with China. However, a re-evaluation of Canada’s relationship with Taiwan may have political, economic, and social benefits that would outweigh any damage to the turbulent China-Canada relationship.


What is the CPTPP?


The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership is a free trade agreement between Canada, Vietnam, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, and Singapore [4]. Currently, it is only in force between Canada, Australia, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Singapore, and Vietnam since the other nations have not ratified the agreement [5]. The trading bloc consists of “500 million consumers and 13.5 per cent of global GDP,” [6]. One benefit of the CPTPP is that it eliminates tariffs and barriers for 98 per cent of a member country’s exports [7]. This expands the access that Canadian companies have to global markets which will allow the market to become more competitive and Canadians will have access to a wider variety of goods. The agreement also seeks to make the customs process easier when importing goods into CPTPP countries [8]. In addition, the CPTPP ensures that the governments of other member countries treat Canadian companies equally to domestic companies during government contract bidding [9]. To summarize, the CPTPP broadens the access that Canadian businesses have to foreign markets while also increasing competitiveness.


The Historic China-Taiwan Relationship


China and Taiwan share a complex history. Taiwan is officially known as the Republic of China, while China is known officially as the People’s Republic of China [10]. The island of Taiwan was ruled by China throughout the 17th and 18th centuries until Japan made Taiwan a colony in 1895 [11]. Following Japan’s defeat in World War II, Taiwan was returned to China. However, Taiwan and China were again separated after China’s Nationalist government fled to Taiwan following its defeat by communists in 1949 [12]. Currently, despite Taiwan being a self-governed democracy, the People’s Republic of China claims to control Taiwan. The People’s Republic of China refers to this as the “one-China policy” [13]. Due to this policy, only 17 countries recognize Taiwan’s statehood [14]. Moreover, Taiwan is recognized as Chinese Taipei by the World Trade Organization and has membership status under that name [15].


The Current Canada-Taiwan Relationship


In the present, Canada does not recognize Taiwan as a state [16]. Although Canada has acknowledged China’s “one-China policy” since 1970, the specific wording in that acknowledgement has allowed Canada to continue relations with Taiwan without recognizing them as a state [17]. In 2019, Canadian merchandise exports to Taiwan represented over $2 billion and Taiwan’s exports to Canada represented over $5.9 billion [18]. As a result of Canada-Taiwan trade relations, Taiwan is now Canada’s 5th largest trading partner in Asia and its 13th largest global trading partner [19]. Canada is also represented in Taiwan through the Canadian Trade Office in Taipei. Similarly, Taiwan is represented in Canada through the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Ottawa [20].


The Current China-Canada Relationship


China-Canada relations are currently very tumultuous after the extradition of a Huawei executive, Meng Wanzhou, to the United States. Meng was extradited after being charged with bank fraud [21]. This led Chinese officials to charge two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, for spying [22]. These arrests have largely been seen as an act of retaliation for the arrest of Meng. Furthermore, Kovrig and Spavor were arrested two years ago and still have not been tried [23]. In addition, the evidence of human rights violations against the Uyghur population of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Province of China has also strained the relationship between China and Canada. These human rights violations have now been acknowledged by the Canadian government and as a result, they have introduced new measures to combat this problem [24]. Finally, a survey conducted by Nanos Research found that 45 per cent of Canadian adults would be in favour of decreased trade with China [25]. This political conflict along with China’s human rights abuses have resulted in turbulent Canadian public opinion and strained political relations.


Why Canada Should Embrace a More Robust Relationship with Taiwan


A poll done by the Asian Pacific Foundation of Canada found that 68 per cent of Canadians were in favour of Taiwan joining the CPTPP [26]. In terms of trade, Canadian exports to China fell 12.3 per cent and Canadian imports from China fell 8.6 per cent in 2020 [27]. Additionally, there was an 18 per cent decline in exports and 24 per cent decline of imports in the services [28]. Considering COVID-19 and the growing tensions in the China-Canada relationship, Canada should embrace Taiwan’s desire to join the CPTPP. The CPTPP comprises 11 countries; therefore, any pressure from China for accepting Taiwan into the CPTPP will be shared, rather than directed towards Canada specifically [29]. In addition, Taiwan’s economic growth rate was larger than China’s for the first time in 30 years. In 2020, Taiwan’s economy grew by 2.9 per cent while China’s economy only grew by 2.3 per cent [30]. Taiwan’s rapid growth can be explained by its semiconductor exports [31]. The fact that Taiwan’s economy grew faster than China’s and experienced growth during the pandemic illustrates the viability of a more robust Canada-Taiwan economic relationship [32]. Lastly, Taiwan has been a democracy since the 1980s and has much more in common with Canada than the authoritarian regime of China does [33]. The growing awareness of China’s human rights abuses highlights the need for Canada to depend upon democratic countries that respect human rights. For instance, Taiwan is the first country in Asia that legalized same-sex marriage [34]. Despite the potential backlash from China, it is important that the Canadian government examines China’s human rights abuses, China’s unwarranted jailing of Canadian citizens, the Canadian public’s low opinion of China, and lastly Taiwan’s growing economy. Taking all of these factors into account, Canada should embrace and accept Taiwan’s application to join the CPTPP.

  1. Reuters, “Taiwan Says on Track to Apply to Join Trans-Pacific Trade Pact,” Reuters (Thomson Reuters, December 14, 2020), https://www.reuters.com/article/us-taiwan-trade-idUSKBN28O015.

  2. Ibid.

  3. Ibid.

  4. Global Affairs Canada, “CPTPP Explained,” GAC (Government of Canada, December 21, 2020), https://www.international.gc.ca/trade-commerce/trade-agreements-accords-commerci aux/agr-acc/cptpp-ptpgp/cptpp_explained-ptpgp_apercu.aspx?lang=eng

  5. Ibid.

  6. Ibid.

  7. Ibid.

  8. Ibid.

  9. Ibid.

  10. John C. Copper, “Encyclopaedia Britannica ,” in Encyclopaedia Britannica , February 7, 2021, https://www.britannica.com/place/Taiwan.

  11. Ibid.

  12. Ibid.

  13. Chris Horton, “Taiwan's Status Is a Geopolitical Absurdity,” The Atlantic (Atlantic Media Company, July 22, 2019), https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2019/07/taiwans-status-geopolitical -absurdity/593371/.

  14. Ibid.

  15. Reuters, 2020.

  16. Government of Canada, “Taiwan,” Canada's International Gateway (Government of Canada, February 2020), https://www.canadainternational.gc.ca/ci-ci/assets/virtual_includes/taiwan-en.html.

  17. Steven Chase, “With Chinese Relations on the Rocks, Is It Time for Canada to Take a Closer Look at Taiwan?,” The Globe and Mail, November 12, 2020, https://www.theglobeandmail.com/politics/article-with-chinese-relations-on-the-rocks-i s-it-time-for-canada-to-take-a/.

  18. Government of Canada, 2020.

  19. Jackie Northam, “Canada-China Relationship Is Quickly Deteriorating After Huawei CFO's Arrest,” NPR (NPR, November 5, 2020), https://www.npr.org/2020/11/05/931836672/canada-china-relationship-is-quickly-deter iorating-after-huawei-cfos-arrest.

  20. Ibid.

  21. Sarah Berman, “Witness Testimony in Huawei CFO's U.S. Extradition Case Finishes in Canada Courtroom,” Reuters (Thomson Reuters, December 14, 2020), https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-huawei-tech-canada-idUSKBN28O1BA.

  22. CBC News, “China Grants Canadian Officials Consular Access to Michael Kovrig, but Not to Michael Spavor ,” CBC News (CBC/Radio Canada, January 22, 2021), https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/michael-kovrig-spavor-consular-access-1.5883882

  23. Ibid.

  24. Global Affairs Canada, “Canada Announces New Measures to Address Human Rights Abuses in Xinjiang, China,” Canada.ca (Government of Canada, January 18, 2021), https://www.canada.ca/en/global-affairs/news/2021/01/canada-announces-new-measu res-to-address-human-rights-abuses-in-xinjiang-china.html.

  25. Ben Cousins, “Canadians More Likely to Support Decreasing Trade with China, Survey Finds,” CTV News (CTV News, January 11, 2021), https://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/canadians-more-likely-to-support-decreasing-trade-wit h-china-survey-finds-1.5262361.

  26. Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, “Taiwan on Track to Join the CPTPP,” Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, accessed February 11, 2021, https://www.asiapacific.ca/asia-watch/taiwan-track-join-cptpp.

  27. Global Affairs Canada, “Monthly Trade Report December 2020,” GAC, February 8, 2021, https://www.international.gc.ca/economist-economiste/performance/monthly-mensuel .aspx?lang=eng.

  28. Ibid.

  29. Hugh Stephen, “CHALLENGES AND PROSPECTS FOR THE CPTPP IN A CHANGING GLOBAL ECONOMY: TAIWANESE ACCESSION AND CANADA’S ROLE,” SPP Briefing Paper (University of Calgary, December 2020),https://www.policyschool.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Canada-Taiwan-CPTPP-Step hens.pdf.

  30. YenNee Lee, “Taiwan's Economy Outgrows China's for the First Time in 30 Years, as Chips Demand Soars,” CNBC (CNBC, February 1, 2021), https://www.cnbc.com/2021/02/01/taiwan-economy-outgrows-china-first-time-in-deca des-as-chips-demand-rises.html.

  31. Ibid.

  32. Ibid.

  33. John C. Copper, 2021.

  34. Julia Hollingsworth, “Taiwan Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage in Historic First for Asia,” CNN (Cable News Network, May 17, 2019), https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/17/asia/taiwan-same-sex-marriage-intl/index.html.