If we are to believe the words of the Chinese ambassador in Ottawa, it is only a matter of time before the island of Taiwan, which has its own government and its own currency, is “reunited” with the People’s Republic of China. Whether she likes it or not.
Posted at 6:00 a.m.
“There is a strong desire for the reunification [du pays] take place at the same time as the great regeneration of China. That’s the opinion of 1.4 billion people. And it cannot be stopped by anyone or by any force. That’s clear,” Cong Peiwu told me during an hour-long interview Friday at the Chinese Consulate General in Montreal.
It is indeed very clear.
Just before our long-planned meeting, we learned that China had launched missiles over Taiwan in addition to carrying out military exercises – sea and air – off the island of 23 million inhabitants. A few hours later, on Saturday at Taipei time, the Taiwanese Ministry of Defense claimed that China was carrying out a mock attack against the island.
This climate of tension is absolutely exceptional in a relationship that has been on the rocks since 1949.
That year, at the time of Mao Zedong’s communist revolution, Chiang Kai-shek’s government fled mainland China and took refuge on the island of Taiwan to establish a government-in-exile there.
Since then, the People’s Republic of China considers Taiwan to be part of its territory and subject to its authority. For its part, Taiwan is self-governing, but since 1971 has not been recognized as a state by the majority of countries in the world. This does not prevent these same countries from maintaining relations of all kinds with Taiwan.
This status quo – to say the least ambiguous – has persisted for decades. However, it has been questioned since President Xi Jinping came to power.
The latter, who is preparing to undertake a third term, promises to reunite the country, even if less than 2% of Taiwanese welcome this project with enthusiasm, according to polls.
The whole thing causes a lot of gnashing of teeth throughout the region.
It is therefore in this already tense context that the speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, landed this week. By meeting Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and other elected officials, she wanted to show her support for “Taiwanese democracy”, she said at the start of this controversial visit.
China saw it as a “serious provocation”, said the Chinese ambassador. “Nancy Pelosi has sent all the wrong signals to those who want Taiwan independence and she has endangered stability and security throughout the Taiwan Strait and even the region, causing a lot of unrest. The escalation of tensions we see now was caused by the United States, not China. We have made our opposition known to them from the very beginning,” argues the diplomat, who believes that the Chinese reaction was “determined and strong” in order to “protect China’s national security and territorial integrity.” And it will continue to be.
During our conversation, the ambassador repeatedly mentions the “Taiwanese independence forces”. However, according to expert Scott Simon, co-holder of the Research Chair in Taiwanese Studies at the University of Ottawa, 4 to 5% of Taiwanese at most are in favor of a complete break with China. “The vast majority want the status quo,” he adds.
In a joint statement, G7 members, including Canada, denounced the “threatening actions of the People’s Republic of China” and called on the country not to end the status quo with Taiwan by force.
On Friday, Beijing summoned the ambassadors of the G7 countries stationed in China as well as Canada’s charge d’affaires, to warm their ears.
Moreover, the Chinese ambassador in post in Ottawa since 2019 does not mince his words to warn Canada.
“Canada should not be involved in actions that go against Chinese sovereignty and territorial integrity. You have learned lessons in the past,” he says, in what appears to be a direct reference to the Meng Wanzhou case.
After Canada arrested the businesswoman and daughter of Huawei company founder at the request of the United States, China arbitrarily detained two Canadian citizens, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, for more than 1,000 days.
Last October, when the two countries finally released the detainees almost simultaneously, China’s foreign ministry said “Canada should learn its lesson.”
It seems Chinese “diplomatic” terminology hasn’t changed much since the fall. It now sticks to a new, even more explosive context.