Taiwan is expanding its diplomatic presence in Canada with a new office in Montreal, even as the Chinese government works to isolate the self-governing island that it considers a breakaway province.
Canada has not recognized Taiwan as a sovereign state since 1970 when former prime minister Pierre Trudeau switched diplomatic relations to the Communist-led People’s Republic of China (PRC) on the mainland.
Taiwan has nevertheless maintained unofficial relations with Canada since. The Asian democracy of 24 million people today has a de-facto embassy in Ottawa called the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Canada, and there are regional offices in Toronto and Vancouver. Similarly, Canada has an unofficial embassy in Taiwan called the Canadian Trade Office in Taipei.
Taiwan’s envoy to Canada, Harry Tseng, said he hopes the latest regional office in Montreal will be open by the middle of 2023. He said Taipei has to select a head for the office and recruit staff.
He noted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau comes from Montreal and that its political significance can also be measured by the number of foreign countries that maintain consulates there, which includes China.
Mario Ste-Marie, a former Canadian diplomat who represented Canada in Taiwan between 2015 and 2018, said he believes this new office could not be opened without he tacit approval of the Department of Global Affairs.
“I think it reflects a change of attitude on the part of the Canadian government toward Taiwan because I don’t think they would have opened it without the okay from the Government of Canada,” he said.
Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly late last year unveiled an Indo-Pacific strategy to guide relations with the region that included a pledge to expand relations with Taiwan.
China regards Taiwan as a renegade province, even though the Communist Party of China has never ruled the island since taking power on the mainland in 1949. Beijing bristles against what it considers foreign interference in the matter and has reserved the right to use force to annex Taiwan, where Nationalist forces fled after they lost a civil war to the Communists.
China has been taking steps to cut off Taiwan from the international community, including denying it the chance to participate in global bodies such as the World Health Organization’s regular assemblies, and persuading countries that still recognize the island as a sovereign country to sever relations. In 2000, Taiwan had official diplomatic relations with 29 member states of the United Nations, as well as the Holy See; today the number has dropped to 13 and the Vatican.
The Chinese embassy declined a request for comment on Taiwan’s coming regional office in Montreal.
Taipei, meanwhile, is girding itself for possible invasion from China as early as 2027, when some in the U.S. security and defence establishment think Beijing will be capable of launching a military assault.
“2027 is the year that we need to watch out for,” Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu recently told Sky News. In response to a visit to Taiwan last summer from then-U.S. House speaker Nancy Pelosi, Beijing surrounded the island with warships and practiced live fire exercises, including launching ballistic missiles in what military experts said resembled training for a blockade of Taiwan.
In its Indo-Pacific strategy, Canada said it will “continue to grow its economic and people-to-people ties with Taiwan while supporting its resilience” and despite mounting risks for the island. The plan calls China “an increasingly disruptive global power” and aims to diversify trade beyond the country’s market.
Asked if she welcomed Taiwan’s expansion in Canada, Ms. Joly’s office said Ottawa will not diverge from its “One China policy,” which recognizes the PRC, not Taiwan, diplomatically. Nevertheless, press secretary Adrien Blanchard said, Canada will “continue our multifaceted engagement with Taiwan, which includes collaborating on trade, technology, health, democratic governance and countering disinformation.”
About 200,000 people of Taiwanese descent live in Canada, and 60,000 Canadian citizens live in Taiwan. Taiwan is Canada’s 13th largest trading partner and 5th largest in Asia.
David Mulroney, a former Canadian diplomat who served as ambassador to Beijing and, earlier in his career, as chief envoy to Taipei, said the expansion to Montreal makes sense for Taiwan as part of a plan to gain backing for its plight.
“Taiwan needs to step up its game in terms of understanding Canada and Canadians. That’s the key to building support,” Mr. Mulroney said. “All too often, Taiwan officials seem only interested in cross-strait issues as they apply to Canada or see Canada as simply a smaller version of the U.S. This appears to be changing.”
Guy Saint-Jacques, a former Canadian ambassador to China, said Montreal offers economic opportunities of interest to Taiwan, including artificial-intelligence research, a video-game industry and health and aeronautical sectors.
“Plus it gives them an opportunity to have close links with the Chinese community and watch what the Chinese consulate is doing,” he said.
Mr. Tseng said he feels supported by Canada: “I think the Chinese embassy here is watching my office, watching Taiwan very closely. This is no different from before. But we have support from Global Affairs Canada. We have the support from your government as a whole. This is very encouraging, encouraging.”
Taiwan is still waiting, however, for a decision on whether to launch talks on an investment trade deal with Canada. A foreign investment promotion and protection agreement, or FIPA, between Taiwan and Canada could stimulate two-way trade by enshrining legal protections for Canadian investors in Taiwan as well as Taiwanese investors in Canada.
Last fall, Mr. Wu said this deal with Canada is among the top ways Ottawa could help the island. Canada promised to begin exploratory talks on an investor protection deal with Taiwan last January, and they were completed in June.