World Interconnection for Taiwan Symposium


Speech to the World Interconnection for Taiwan Symposium
“The Exploration of Parallel Recognition - An International Perspective on Taiwan ”

November 10, 2001
Grand Hyatt , New York

Thank you for the opportunity to speak.  I’m just grateful that at this late hour anyone is still awake and engaged enough not to doze off during my presentation.  I would like to think that you have saved he best for last, but in light of the excellence of previous presentations, I would be very presumptuous indeed to make such a claim.

I’ll be speaking from the perspective of a Canadian Member of Parliament and President of the Canada-Taiwan Parliamentary Friendship Group, which is the largest Friendship Group on Parliament Hill.  It is a political perspective, not academic, not legal.  It is the perspective of a practising politician from one of the most diverse cities and countries in the world, which includes among its citizens Taiwanese, Hong Kong Chinese, PRC Chinese, Ethnic Chinese, etc.

Since I’m speaking to an American audience, let me first of all comment on the Canadian Parliamentary system as opposed to the American/Taiwanese Congressional system and relate that to the Canada-Taiwan relationship.

Canada has a Parliamentary system similar to Great Britain .   The Prime Minister and Cabinet are selected from the ranks of the party with the most seats in the House of Commons.  That party gets to form the government so there is a fusion between the executive side and the legislative side.  As long as one party has the majority of votes in Parliament, it stays in government.   Therefore, party discipline is quite tight, as the government does not want to be subject to a confidence vote and loose power.

Why is this relevant?  Unlike the American system, Members of Parliament can’t freelance; for example, vote against government bills such as budget bills; platform commitments, etc.  In exchange, government MPs get very good access to Ministers and the Prime Minister on issues of concern to them.  As President of the Canada-Taiwan, I get very good access to anyone in the Canadian government, Minister or otherwise.  In preparing for this speech, I talked to all the Minister’s senior departmental officials who implement Canada ’s one China policy on a daily basis.

“ Canada recognizes the People’s Republic of China as the sole legitimate government of China . Canada does not have diplomatic relations with Taiwan , but encourages economic, cultural, and people-to-people contacts. Canada takes note of the PRC’s claim to Taiwan .”

In a newspaper article a few months ago, I called on Canada to review its one China policy and I submitted a report this week to the House of Commons based upon our visit to Taiwan in August, calling upon Canada to review its policy.   “The premise of the relationship is Canada ’s continuing commitment to the “One China” policy.  The policy leads us into a variety of intellectual conundrums and illogical positions that make the relationship more difficult than it needs to be.  The delegation takes note that the “One China” policy may have outlived its usefulness and urges the Government of Canada to review that position in light of changing realities.  The policy is 30 years old.  Accession to the WTO – participation in the WHO – involvement in the Kyoto protocols and direct trade and cultural issues are forever phased in light of a policy, which may be close to the end of its useful life.”

I led the delegation of 8 MPs representing almost all of the parties in the House of Commons.  We submitted our report unanimously.

What difference will it make?  Who knows?  I take some comfort from the analysis by Lin Chen-Yi and Lin Wen-Cheng, which concludes, “Seeking to participate in the UN is a highly challenging diplomatic engineering.  The greatest difficulty lies in the fact that there are very few countries recognizing Taiwan , whereas more than 160 countries have diplomatic ties with the PRC who also hold veto power in the Security Council.  Nevertheless, there are abundant instances in international society where something deemed the impossible in the beginning is turned into the possible.  For example, before the collapse of the Soviet Union , no one believed it would become real.  No one believed that the three Baltic States could become independent of the Soviet Union , similarly the independence of East Timor .   All of these were thought to be impossible but now are reality.”

Mysterious are the ways of government – local and global politics are in play and Canada is not a super-power.

Unlike the United States , we cannot afford to antagonize the PRC.  It is remarkable to us that the US can spy on China one week – sell Taiwan military hardware the next week and sell $2 Billion worth of commercial jets to the PRC the following week.  Canada lives in a much more circumscribed environment.  Our relationship with Taiwan is much more nuanced and subtle and possibly of far greater significance to the stated goal of this conference – “Parallel Recognition” than the US/Taiwan relationship.  The US can do what it wants.  Canada , however, is far more limited and that limitation will be a standard by which the success of “Parallel Recognition” is gauged.  If you can’t get Canada to move on its one China policy, it’s not likely that you’re going to have much success with other countries.

Canada is the litmus test.  It is not a super power – it does not have colonial baggage.  It’s better known for peacekeeping than war making.  It has an international reputation far in excess of its actual significance in geopolitics.

You have an uphill fight.

If you talk to our Ministers privately, they will readily concede the hypocrisy and ambiguity of our position.  We acknowledge that Taiwan is a double miracle.  In less than a generation, Taiwan has transformed itself from rural economic backwater to a hi-tech dynamo – seventeenth largest economy in the world.  Our 7th largest trading partner.  In fact, we traded $6 Billion last year.  Our 5th largest overseas tourist market.  But the second miracle is arguably even more impressive.  Taiwan has transformed itself from an oppressive dictatorship to a vibrant multi-party democracy. Parenthetically the formerly blacklisted Tom Chen is now the head of mission at TECO in Ottawa . Tom was made to feel unwelcome in Taiwan during the late 60’s and early 70’s and so became a Canadian citizen and taught law at the University of Alberta . In 1972 he transferred to Queen’s University Law School and there he taught me commercial law. I didn’t know that he was blacklisted. I barely understood the relationship between the PRC & the ROC. He went on to become a law partner with my fellow M.P. Derek Lee and now he’s in Ottawa very ably serving his country. “Life moves in interesting circles.” When I was in Taiwan in August, I suggested to President Chen Shui-bian that he should be giving tips to George Bush on how to work with a hostile Congress controlled by another party.

Yuan Fan has said, “To Taiwan, democracy is not just a universal value, but also a requirement for its survival.  Being isolated and watched covetously by a hostile Chinese mainland, the people know that only a democratic Taiwan can win the respect and support of the world.”

The election on December 1st should prove to be quite interesting.  When TECO asked me whether I wanted to go and observe the election in December I said, “What for?  Taiwan can teach us lessons on being a vibrant democracy.”  Another MP wanted to go so we will still have representation.

Therein lies our hypocrisy.  We spend endless hours talking about encouraging democracy and developing democratic institutions.  We spend millions of dollars assisting countries in their democratic development, yet when we have an outstanding success story, we don’t even officially recognize the incredible achievement of the Taiwanese people.  Makes you wonder doesn’t it.  What is/was the point of democratizing Taiwanese institutions if there is no world recognition parallel or otherwise.

Taiwan has done some pretty dumb things in the past.  Chang Kai Shek’s withdrawal from the UN isn’t the most brilliant move ever made by a leader.  It may have satisfied his enormous ego, but it was easily foreseeable as contrary to the long-term interests of the people of Taiwan.

Nevertheless should Taiwan forever pay for a really dumb move by one of its former un-elected leaders?   Certainly for those who profess democratic values, the answer has to be no.  Indeed, if Canada was held to account for all of the dubious decisions of its former leaders, I dare say that we too would have some ground to make up in international relations.

Taiwan deserves a better shake from western democracies than it has received to date, but I don’t see any of the non-super powers seizing the initiative for fear of offending the PRC.   The PRC can by fear and intimidation achieve a divide and conquer strategy.  To date there is nothing in it for those democracies (other than the US) to work in concert in order to facilitate the legitimate aspirations of the Taiwanese people.  Canada’s policy is not overly subtle.  We recognize and expand relationships with Taiwan in direct co-relation to what we think that the PRC will think.  I don’t doubt that other non-super powers have very similar policies, the result of which is the present stalemate.

Given that “One China” is not likely to change in the reasonably near future, what can be done?   It seems to me that within the policy there are a number of potentials – creative initiatives.

May I suggest three come to mind within the limitation of “One China.”

Enhancement of Mutual Interests

Developing a culture of expectations

Breaking down institutional resistance

We have a wide range of mutual interests on the Trade and Economic side and have set up Canada-Taiwan working groups on topics like Science and Technology, Telecommunications.  Environmental technology and Agriculture.  We continue to support Taiwan’s participation in the WTO.  We are in the process of reconstructing our bilateral business council to take note of the fact that we have a whole new crop of sectoral and regional business councils whose presence should be recognized and to allow us to do a better job of reaching out to small and medium size companies, among them the many companies recently launched by Taiwanese entrepreneurs in Canada.

One of Canada’s most active public affairs programs, second only to Tokyo, is delivered from the CTOT in Taipei, and this year featured two major museum shows, appearances by the Royal Winnipeg ballet, and a host of smaller concerts and performances.

Canada is becoming far more active in terms of promoting Education in Taiwan.  We have on average two major education promotions per year and we are seeing a resulting increase in student numbers. 5,000 Taiwanese studying in Canada.

Canada is the only country to continue to provide assistance to those most affected by the 9/21 earthquake.  Efforts long after the event have included book donations and concerts for young people in the remote towns of central Taiwan.  This is linked to an extensive and ongoing program of cooperation between the aboriginal peoples of both places.

The Terry Fox Run in Taipei, organised by the CTOT is one of the largest in the Asia-Pacific region.   All funds raised stay in Taiwan.  This year we are adding a Run in Kaohsiung.

Our policy precludes official high-level links, but it has proved sufficiently robust to include a host of exchanges that further mutual objectives in terms of trade, investment, culture, education and people-to-people links.  We host far more visits from Taiwan than we do from places like Korea, Singapore, or Hong Kong.

This doesn’t have the same punch as Ministerial Exchange – State Visits – Ambassadorial Status, but it will have to do for now.

It seems to me that a second strategy is to make it in the interest of the other countries (Canada) to upgrade the relationship.  I have been trying to make the point with our people that certain trade irritants which actually work to Canada’s detriment would be better addressed if Ministers addressed the issue rather than lower level officials.  It strikes me as faintly ridiculous that I as an MP (not a Minister) should be expressing Canada’s view on a specific issue and the President (or Minister) should in turn be responding on behalf of Taiwan.  I may have some influence, but I certainly have no power to change a policy or give direction to officials.   Whatever influence I have is directly premised on my relationship with the relevant Minister.

The other area of work is institutional resistance. “A One China policy” is necessarily left to Officials to interpret and administer.  There is nothing in it for an official to take a risk.  Why would anyone create more work for him/herself by arranging for a visit of President Lee to Canada to commemorate Leslie MacKay’s (no relationship) work in Formosa as a missionary?  Why incur the wrath of more senior people who will have just had an unsolicited encounter with the PRC Ambassador. Again, what’s in it for the bureaucrat?  How does one make it clear that health concerns are universal – terrorist concerns know no boundaries that it is better to have Taiwan inside the tent at the WHO?  When will the penny drop that it’s a lot smarter to have Taiwan and Taiwanese companies legally bound to Kyoto protocols so that the trade playing field will be level so that Taiwanese companies won’t have unfair trade advantages because they are not bound to the economic costs of Kyoto?

Similarly, Taiwan can be its own worst enemy.  It does not speak with one voice.

That is both a strength and weakness.  While it seeks divergence from the PRC politically, it’s hurtling in the opposite direction economically with increasing convergence of the economies.  Political divergence: economic convergence. It’s pretty hard to see how that formula is going to work.  It’s pretty hard to see how young people will stay in Taipei when the bright lights of Shanghai are so attractive. It’s even more difficult for a nation like Canada to adjust its policies in a light of contradictory impulses.

Even those of us who could wish to see clarification of our own hypocrisies have trouble reacting to the turbulence in Taipei. President Chen has a very difficult job as he has less that 1/3 of the seats in the Legislative Yuan. Fortunately the opposition is quite divided but he is still not able to achieve a number of his platform commitments. While his success may be divided – he still has had some success in cross-strait relations and banking reforms.

Parallel recognition seems to me to be a sensible direction given the muddle of contradictory impulses. The PRC plays a very capable game of isolation and marginalization even though its territorial claims to the island can best be described as marginal. Similarly non – super power democracies can’t ignore the strategy of the PRC to the determinant of their own political and economic interests.

Our position of studied ambiguity does leave a lot of room for creativity. One of our senior diplomats/academics after doing a very capable canvas of Taiwan’s desire for recognition of its statehood and who prefers not to be quoted has said “It should not be assumed, of course, despite the extent and rapidity of these changes, some of them profound in nature, that the state system is likely soon to disappear. Not one current member of the United Nations would be at all willing to abandon the system, and thus diminish the perceived stature that it denotes.  For that reason, recognition of a state such as Taiwan by the major existing states in the international community is clearly a desirable accomplishment. That being said, non-recognition is now of much less impact than in the past, partly because the extent of authority of sovereign powers has altered significantly in recent years, and partly because many of the international benefits of statehood are now available through other means. Indeed, the choice of some broadly recognized states, notably Switzerland, to remain outside the United Nations is an indication of the varying roles that may now be played in the international community.”

As I’ve indicated within the limitation of “One China.”

Enhancement of Mutual Interests

Developing a culture of expectations and Breaking down institutional resistance are potentially fruitful areas of expansion.

For the time being parallel recognition by non – super power states will be by way of NGO’s, MOU’s and the increasing use of civil society mechanisms. While at its root hypocritical and not completely satisfying it does lay a foundation for eventual recognition, which is not dependent upon parallelism.

Thank you for this opportunity. I salute all of you in your efforts on behalf of the good people of Taiwan.