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‘Sacred mission’: Dozens of Chinese Canadian groups echo Beijing on Taiwan

Pressure over Taiwan is being applied from within Canada
A Chinese flag, flanked by Canadian flags, is illuminated by sunshine in the Hall of Honour on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Sept. 22, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

When a group of Canadian parliamentarians recently announced plans to visit Taiwan, Beijing’s response was swift, with its Ottawa embassy vowing “resolute and forceful measures” against any country interfering in China’s territorial integrity.

Beijing’s Foreign Ministry had earlier summoned Canadian diplomat Jim Nickel over a G7 statement that called on China to peacefully resolve tensions surrounding U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s recent visit to Taiwan, telling Nickel the statement was helping “a villain do evil.”

But pressure over Taiwan is also being applied from within Canada.

Dozens of Chinese Canadian associations have echoed Beijing’s positions, declaring support for Chinese “reunification” with Taiwan to be a “sacred mission of all Chinese sons and daughters at home and abroad.”

“Chinese Canadians overseas will firmly support the Chinese government’s political stance and fight against any external forces that try to split and undermine China’s unity,” read the letter, published in Dawa News, a Chinese-language outlet based in Canada.

The letter was published on Aug. 16, the same day that the Canada-Taiwan Friendship Group of Canadian parliamentarians announced their planned visit to Taiwan in the fall.

Pifeng Hu is honorary president of the Richmond, B.C.-based Peace and Development Forum of Canada, one of the 87 signatory groups to the letter. Fellow signatories include prominent umbrella groups such as the Canadian Alliance of Chinese Associations, chambers of commerce, as well as small bodies devoted to special interests such as wine and poetry appreciation.

Hu said in an interview in Mandarin that Chinese Canadians considered Taiwan and China to be “one family.”

“So why do we organize activities like this? Because we still have feelings for our country of origin and the hometowns we grew up in,” said Hu.

“We don’t want to see people on both sides of the (Taiwan) strait to continue to argue with each other.”

Hu said his organization had held public discussions about Taiwan issues, but had never invited anyone who supported Taiwanese independence because their opinions were incompatible with those of his group’s members.

Beijing opposes activities that it believes breach its territorial integrity, such as Pelosi’s Aug. 2 visit to Taiwan, which it views as a Chinese province.

Canada subscribes to the One China policy, which holds that there is only one Chinese government, and does not have diplomatic relations with Taiwan’s government.

Pelosi’s visit prompted Beijing to issue an Aug. 10 policy white paper entitled “The Taiwan Question and China’s Reunification in the New Era,” reiterating Beijing’s position that Taiwan has been part of China since ancient times and its reunification with the mainland represents a historic mission for the ruling Communist Party.

The Dawa News letter cited the white paper as a demonstration of the will of the Chinese government and people to pursue reunification.

Hilbert Yiu, a former chairman of the Chinese Benevolent Association of Vancouver that was also a signatory to the Dawa News letter, said in an interview in Mandarin that Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan was a “publicity stunt,” designed to pull China into war.

He said the association’s members act for the benefit of Canada.

“Let me ask you a question: Will Canadians agree if Quebec wants to be independent? Will the United Kingdom be happy if Scotland wants to be independent? You can’t have that double-standard (towards China),” said Yiu.

In a statement in response to the planned Taiwan visit by Canadian parliamentarians, China’s embassy urged “the Canadian side to abide by the one-China principle and respect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Aug. 19 that the parliamentarians should reflect on the consequences of the planned visit.

The Chinese government’s media has depicted Chinese Canadians as alarmed by Pelosi’s visit and actions by western governments in support of Taiwanese “separatism.” Its English-language China Daily published an Aug. 19 article headlined “Anger in Canada over Taiwan provocations.”

The article quoted B.C.-based David Choi, national executive chair of the National Congress of Chinese Canadians, as saying 1.8 million Chinese Canadians would be “disgusted” if Taiwan was used as a pawn in conflict.

Choi advises the B.C. government as co-chair of its Legacy Initiatives Advisory Council, which focuses on implementation of policies related to the province’s 2014 apology for historic wrongs against Chinese Canadians.

In an interview in which he discussed his remarks in China Daily, Choi told The Canadian Press that Canada should “pause and think” and back off from being a cheerleader for the U.S.

“We are departing from our traditional role as peacemakers. In the past, Canada had been unbiased when there was a conflict between different nationals or political entities,” he said.

Angel Liu, director-general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Vancouver, which represents Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry, said the Dawa News letter had been forwarded to her by many Taiwanese Canadians and it expressed views that were “not acceptable at all by all overseas Taiwanese.”

She said the Chinese government was stepping up messaging in Canada in relation to Taiwan.

“I don’t know if the strategy is useful for others, but it’s useless to Taiwanese Canadians,” said Liu in an interview in Mandarin.

David Mulroney, a former Canadian ambassador to China, said he accepted the right of groups to hold different opinions but he was sometimes concerned whether organizations were repeating views at the behest of foreign governments.

“And again, I’m not saying that’s happening in this case, but this is where my concern is. What I would like to be sure of is that all organizations are expressing their own personal views, and not passing on the views of another unnamed actor, because then that, I think, is problematic,” said Mulroney.

He noted that Canada had no law requiring individuals or groups to register their activities if they were lobbying on behalf of a foreign state, unlike countries such as Australia.

Public Safety Canada said the RCMP was aware of “foreign actor interference activity” in Canada, and had “various methods and techniques” in place to combat this.

It did not refer to any specific cases.

Yiu, of the Chinese Benevolent Association of Vancouver, said the group members knew that some Canadians don’t agree with their views.

“I was once told by other Chinese immigrants to go back to China,” said Yiu. “I replied, it’s totally fine that you dislike my opinions. However, it’s my personal choice to stay here or to leave.”

—Nono Shen, The Canadian Press

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