The Star: Canada can learn from Taiwan on relations with China

Few cherish the fragility of democracy more than the people of Taiwan. Located perilously close to an adversary seeking to undermine its sovereignty and democracy, Taiwan has developed remarkable resilience to China’s ongoing threats. This resilience will be put to the test on Saturday as voters cast ballots in Taiwan’s national elections.

Canada is no stranger to China’s bully diplomacy. Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig are entering their second year of arbitrary detention in China in response to the legal arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. extradition request. And just last month, Chinese Ambassador Cong Peiwu threatened retaliation if Canada imposed Magnitsky sanctions on Chinese officials who are responsible for human rights abuses.

Beijing’s aggressive influence operations within Canada have targeted elected officials at all government levels and riding level political party structures are under increasing threat of being compromised by groups connected to China’s local consulates and the United Front. Platforms such as Facebook and WeChat regularly used by Beijing to spread disinformation about Canada, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Even Canadian corporations operating in China are overtly threatened in Chinese state media if they don’t toe Beijing’s line.

Taiwan’s success in resisting China’s influence lies in the fact that they have developed defences against China’s objectives — namely, aggressive expansionism and the subjugation of smaller nations to Beijing’s direct influence.

As such, Taiwan has taken diversified trade, bolstered domestic defence industries, and reinforced democratic institutions to directly address China’s influence and information warfare.

This dedication to democracy has been put into action by Taiwanese Minister Audrey Tang, who is Taiwan’s first transgender cabinet minister and among the first anywhere in the world. She has developed an innovative open government policy that allows all citizens to directly contribute to the country’s policy-making process.

Tang is also responsible for overseeing the development of Taiwan’s countermeasures against Beijing’s disinformation attacks — without negatively affecting personal liberties, including freedom of expression.

When I recently met with Tang in Taipei, she explained that the Taiwanese government has developed a protocol for “working toward disarming disinformation that does not involve infringing of journalistic freedom.”

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