AT BAT FOR THE OTHER CHINA (WESTERN STANDARD)
Taiwan’s new representative to Canada, David Tawei Lee, speaks up about his country’s second-class status here
David Tawei Lee, 57, took over as Taiwan’s chief representative to Canada on April 12, amidst controversy surrounding this country’s relations with the People’s Republic of China. Canada’s relationship with Taiwan, a democratic republic, was ruptured in 1970 when Ottawa officially recognized the more populous mainland China, a communist dictatorship. As a result, Taiwan and Canada neither maintain embassies in each other’s capitals nor exchange ambassadors. Still, Taiwan and Canada have friendly relations, which led recently to visits there of numerous Canadian members of Parliament. But on May 10 those visits sparked a complaint from officials of China, which for half a century has laid claim to Taiwan. Lee comes to his post after a distinguished international career, most recently as his country’s representative to the U.S. He spoke to the Western Standard’s Terry O’Neill by phone from his new post at the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Ottawa.
WS: We’ve just learned that China has accused Canada of “damaging Sino-Canadian relations” by permitting MPs to visit Taiwan. What do you make of this?
David Tawei Lee: I think it is a vivid example to illustrate Beijing’s trying to isolate Taiwan. It’s a typical story of Beijing’s efforts to suffocate Taiwan on the international stage. To us, this is certainly not news; it happens regularly. And, certainly, we would like to have more people know that has been the case, and let more people know that Beijing ignores some of the principles of democracy.
Many Canadians might not appreciate the distinction between your being a representative and not an ambassador. Would you rather Canada had full and normal relations with Taiwan?
My function and responsibilities in Canada are really quite the same as any other ambassador in Ottawa. I think we have all the substance, but not the form.
Do you think there is any prospect for this country to officially recognize Taiwan again?
I think this is certainly a long-term goal. But at this moment, we have many other things to do. I would like to see we have more trade and investment between our two countries; I think we have a lot of potential to develop this. And also I want to see more cultural and educational exchanges between our countries. And another area I would like to touch upon is science and high-tech co-operation.
Does this mean that, conversely, you’d like to see such links decreased between Canada and China?
I think this is not the purpose of my mission in this country. I think my mission is trying to promote relationships between Taiwan and Canada.
The People’s Republic has been known to bully smaller countries, such as Haiti and Chad, into not recognizing or marginalizing Taiwan. As a diplomat, what measures do you take to counteract this?
One thing I know for sure is Canada is no small country. Canada is a country of principle; it really values freedom, democracy and human rights, which are the core principles of Taiwan. So I think that between Canada and Taiwan we have more in common than Canada’s relations with the PRC.
Speaking of Canada being a country of principle, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has taken a more principled stand on this country’s relations with China. How this affected Canada’s relationship with Taiwan?
Certainly, we do appreciate and admire Prime Minister Harper’s stance on human rights and respect for democratic principles. However, I think our work in Ottawa is trying to maintain good relations with all the major parties.
Is there anything more you would like to see Mr. Harper do in his relationship with your country?
I just hope Canada will have more appreciation of the realities in Taiwan, both politically and economically. We need to have more interactions on the economic side, and also we hope that we will have more visits from Canadian officials.
What exactly is your country’s long-term goal? Is it solely to be recognized by the international community as a country separate from China, or is it to actually represent all of China, the mainland included?
I think certainly this is also a question subject to political debate in Taiwan. I think currently my government is pursuing a policy to enhance peace and stability in the region, and we hope that the will and the rights of our own people will be respected instead of being coerced by the other side.
(This article was published in The Western Standard - issue of June 4, 2007 )