Fri. Feb 23rd, 2024

Canadian efforts to revive the military link with Beijing stumbles on Taiwan

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The American missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur carries out routine operations in the Taiwan Strait.

The Canadian Press

China's ambassador to Canada said Ottawa's efforts to restore normal military communications would be hampered if the Canadian navy deployed another ship to the Taiwan Strait.

We want dialogue, but this dialogue is really based on the principle of mutual respect, Cong Peiwu told The Canadian Press in a recent interview.

Late last month, Maj. Gen. Gregory Smith, the senior Canadian officer responsible for communicating with countries like China, said that x27;Ottawa sought to establish a more open dialogue with officials in Beijing.

We're trying to move beyond 'just talking to each other in anger' to normal relations, Major General Smith said.

< p class="StyledBodyHtmlParagraph-sc-48221190-4 hnvfyV">The staff officer told the Commons National Defense Committee that Canada was seeking a more fundamental discussion with the ;China's military attaché.

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We are considering it, but we must do it with our greatest partners in government, he said, adding that since 2018, Canada has not conducted any military exercises or practiced any cooperation with the #x27;Chinese army.

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China has deployed a large number of ships around Taiwan. Here, a patrol ship in the strait separating Beijing and Taipei. (Archive photo)

Last year, Canada and the United States sailed warships through the Taiwan Strait in what Washington calls freedom of navigation operations.

In June, the United States released a video showing a Chinese boat cutting into the path of a US destroyer, forcing it to slow down. A Canadian warship was alongside the American vessel. And last September, the Canadian navy made another transit through the disputed strait.

In October, Defense Minister Bill Blair accused the Chinese military of unacceptable and dangerous behavior after a fighter jet came within five meters of a Canadian surveillance plane over the East China Sea. p>

The dispute concerns China's understanding of its territory, which it says extends beyond Taiwan. Western countries and the Taiwanese government believe that the strait is part of international waters in which foreign militaries can navigate without China's consent.

As part of its Indo-Pacific strategy, Canada has committed to sending three naval vessels to the region. None are currently on site, although Ottawa plans to send a boat within a few months, which will be joined by two others during the summer.

The Canadian Armed Forces will continue to play an active role in maintaining the international order based on the rule of law and in promoting stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region, wrote Captain Véronique Sabourin, in name of Canadian Joint Operations Command.

Planning is underway for HMCS Montreal to depart Halifax in the spring, en route to the Indo-Pacific.

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Pingtan Island in Fujian Province, China, is the closest point to the island of Taiwan , from which it is separated by a strait. (File photo)

Ambassador Cong said having such a ship between Taiwan and mainland China undermines the one-China policy that Canada has pursued since 1970.

This policy, followed by many of Canada's allies, recognizes the People's Republic of China as the only legitimate Chinese government, but does not support or challenge the position of the Chinese government #x27;regard to Taiwan, according to which it is a separatist region which must be under the domination of Beijing.

We firmly oppose any provocative actions, especially on the Taiwan issue. Anything that goes against the one-China principle is dangerous, Cong said. If people don't talk about this fundamental principle, there is no basis for fruitful and meaningful dialogue or communication.

The ambassador said this was why Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi highlighted Taiwan's status in a call with his Canadian counterpart, Mélanie Joly, last month. last. According to a report of the call, the Chinese minister indicated that his government considers it a matter of respect that Canada avoids anything that could be construed as support for Taiwan's independence.

Stephen Saideman, a professor at Carleton University, argued that military-to-military communications are crucial. They are trying to defuse the situation after years of tension, said Mr. Saideman, director of the Canadian Defense and Security Network.

We don't want an accident that could lead to an escalation. So it makes sense for us to try to maintain that relationship, he said. If you think war is inevitable, you will start behaving in a way that makes it inevitable.

But Professor Saideman is skeptical about the ability of Ottawa and Beijing to have normal communication, given diplomatic tensions related to allegations of foreign interference, trade restrictions and the detention of Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig. p>

I am wary because China has been extremely aggressive in recent years and has been rather harsh towards Canada, explained Mr. Saideman. We want to have a good relationship, but we also don't want to give in to his demands.

He believes that Canada could, for example, consider reducing the frequency of its ships sailing through the Taiwan Strait, in order to continue to adopt the posture aimed at preventing a Chinese invasion of the island without being too provocative.

He argued that stopping all shipping through the strait would only encourage China to push further.

Part of the problem is that Canadian and Chinese leaders have an incentive to exaggerate tensions and say they are defending their citizens instead of seeking a nuanced relationship, Mr. Saideman said.

I think we can change the outlook without actually giving in to what is being asked the Chinese, because they're basically saying the strait is a Chinese lake and we shouldn't even be there, he argued. There are ways to do this that could give less weight to their domestic politics, which could allow them to save face on this issue.

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