100 Years of the Republic of China: Reason to Celebrate

Xinhai Revolution in Shanghai

October 10, 2011, marks the centennial anniversary of the Hsinhai Revolution and the subsequent establishment of the Republic of China (ROC). The revolution’s political philosophy, developed by Dr. Sun Yat-sen, was the “Three Principles of the People.” Principles of minzu (nationalism, “government of the people”), minquan (democracy, “government by the people”) and minsheng (peoples’ livelihood, “government for the people”) drew upon the American and French revolutions, with the hope of making China a leader in world democracy. In his speech at the Centennial, ROC President of  Ma Ying-jeou, observed, “[t]he ideals that Dr. Sun Yat-sen sought in establishing the Republic were not achieved in the mainland during his lifetime, but they have come to full fruition here in Taiwan.”

President Ma was referring to historical facts well-known to his listeners. In 1913, President Yuan Shikai tried to re-assert the monarchy with himself as Emperor. Most of China fell under the control of regional warlords. World War II broke out, with Japanese occupation of large swatches of China. ROC nationalists and Communists embarked on civil war. In 1949, following the “Liberation” of China, the ROC, led by President Chiang Kai-shek, retreated to Taiwan, already home to some six million people.

Taiwanese who lived through that transition note the historical irony. Since Taiwan was Japanese territory from 1895 to 1945, the Taiwanese missed out on the Hsinhai Revolution and the first decades of ROC history. Japan transferred Taiwan to the ROC in the 1952 Treaty of Taipei, making Taiwan and a few outlying islands the only territories under the effective jurisdiction of the ROC. Throughout the Cold War, the United States supported the ROC as “Free China.” With both the ROC on Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on the Mainland claiming to represent all of China, this situation caused a challenge to foreign governments.

In policies resembling the Hallstein Doctrine (which prevented countries from establishing formal diplomatic relations with both West and East Germany), governments had to decide which side to recognize. Until 1970, Canada recognized the ROC. In 1968, incoming Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau promised to “recognize the People’s Republic of China government as soon as possible and to enable the government to occupy the seat of China in the UN, taking into account that there is a separate government in Taiwan.” In October 1970, the communiqué signed between Ottawa and Beijing stated, “[t]he Chinese Government reaffirms that Taiwan is an inalienable part of the territory of the People’s Republic of China. The Canadian Government takes note of this position of the Chinese Government.” Mitchell Sharp, Secretary of State of External Affairs explained to the House of Commons, “the Canadian government does not consider it appropriate either to endorse or to challenge the Chinese government’s position on the status of Taiwan.”

With rapid economic growth on both sides of the Taiwan Straits and with significant Canadian business, cultural, and social links in both jurisdictions, Canadian officials found it increasingly necessary to balance formal diplomatic relations with China and substantive relations with Taiwan. At first, business and other contacts were managed through the Taiwan External Trade Development Council in Montreal and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Taipei. In November 1986, the Canadian Trade Office in Taipei was inaugurated; and in October 1991, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) opened its Ottawa offices. Both offices fill most roles of an Embassy. In line with long-standing policy, Canadian refrains from commenting on the legitimacy of the ROC and simply refers to Taiwan by its place name – Taiwan. Canada thus neither recognizes nor denies the sovereignty of the ROC in its relations with Taiwan.

Since the 1990s, Canada-Taiwan relations have blossomed. In 2010, Canada reported $1.3 billion of exports to Taiwan and nearly $4 billion of imports, making Taiwan Canada’s 4th largest trading partner in Asia and 12th in the world. Taiwan is Canada’s 7th largest source of foreign visitors. And over 15,000 Taiwanese students are currently studying in Canada. Canada and Taiwan have a reciprocal visa-free tourism policy; and have begun working holiday exchanges for youth.

Another barometer of Canada-Taiwan relations is TECO’s annual “Taiwan Night” in Ottawa, which this year fêted the centennial of the ROC. In attendance at the Chateau Laurier event were 75 federal parliamentarians from all parties, including six Ministers. The Hon. Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism began his speech in Chinese, praising “common values of democracy, freedom, human rights, and the rule of law.” Kenney speaks to his Taiwanese constituency: Canada welcomed 2,761 permanent residents from Taiwan in 2010, and some 17,705 people self-identified as Taiwanese in the 2006 census. Like other Canadian politicians present, he referred to “Taiwan”, avoiding the delicate question of the ROC’s national status.

Canada-Taiwan relations are warming up amidst closer relations between the Mainland and Taiwan. Cross-straits relations are now described in terms of the “1992 Consensus”: “One China, different interpretations.” From Taipei, President Ma Ying-jeou’s moderate policy is “no unification, no independence, no use of force;” and “mutual non-denial, mutual non-recognition.” In 2010, the two sides signed an Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement; and direct flights commenced. Cross-straits rapprochement, including a “diplomatic truce,” has made it easier to advance substantive relations with Taiwan. The former “zero-sum game” has transformed into a “win-win” situation. Dr. David Lee, Taiwan’s representative to Canada, thus talks about a “triple-win model to prosperity” as Canadian firms collaborate with Taiwanese counterparts to access Mainland markets.

In this context, there is no pragmatic reason for Canada to change its policy towards the ROC and Taiwan, or to alter the Chinese Hallstein Doctrine. As long as the people on both sides can live peacefully with ambiguities of “non-denial and non-recognition,” so can the rest of the world. For Canada, formal diplomatic relations with China and substantive economic and cultural relations with Taiwan are thus both reasons to bring out the champagne bottles.

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