Defence Minister Anita Anand says China is at the core of Canada’s new Indo-Pacific Strategy, and pledges to challenge Beijing in defence of the region’s stability. However, she would not say specifically whether Canada would defend Taiwan’s de facto sovereignty should China launch a military invasion of the island.
While outlining the defence and security elements of the government’s Indo-Pacific strategy at a virtual press conference on Nov. 27, Anand was asked whether Canada would defend the self-ruled democracy if China invaded.
“We will continue to support a free and open Indo-Pacific region, and from a defence perspective, that means that we will continue to send frigates to the Indo-Pacific. The Taiwan Strait, being international waters, will continue to see us transit through the waters in that region, as we have for decades,” she replied.
“In terms of Taiwan itself, we have strong and growing trade, and people-to-people ties there, and we’re going to continue to allow those ties to grow. I will say that we are concerned by the increased level of Chinese military activities in the region, and we will continue to monitor those and … enforced general stability in that region.”
“Canada will also continue to work with partners to push back against any unilateral actions that threaten the status quo in the Taiwan Strait, as well as the East and South China Seas,” the strategy reads.
The strategy says, however, that Canada will “[remain] consistent with our One China Policy” in engaging with Taiwan. The One China Policy is a diplomatic acknowledgment of Beijing’s position that there is only one Chinese government, meaning Canada maintains only unofficial ties with Taiwan.
Although it is separate from the One China Principle—which is communist China doctrine that Taiwan is a de jure part of its territory—some Western officials believe the policy should no longer be adhered to. Former U.S. Secretary of Defence Mark Esper said the policy has “outlived its usefulness.”
Key Strategic Challenge
During her announcement on Nov. 27, Joly called out China as an “an increasingly disruptive global power,” and the strategy states that the “escalating tensions in the South and East China Seas and across the Taiwan Strait” is a key strategic challenge for Canada in that region.
Anand echoed Joly’s remarks, saying Canada’s relationship with China is a centrepiece of the new Indo-Pacific Strategy.
“The region is also home to the world’s most populous country, China, and Canada’s relationship with China is one of the core elements of the Indo Pacific strategy. It is no secret that China is becoming increasingly assertive as it advanced interests and values that are very different from ours,” Anand said.
“We will challenge China when we ought to, we will cooperate with China when we must, and we will work closely with our allies and partners to help maintain peace, security, and stability in the region.”
Ottawa has pledged roughly half a billion dollars in four new defence and security initiatives, including “Operation Projection,” which Anand said aims to bolster Canada’s naval presence in the Indo-Pacific region and protect “navigation and overflight rights in the East and South China Seas.”
Canada will also expand military collaboration with allies, increase joint exercises, and enhance traditional military capabilities, the minister said.
“These new resources will help to increase Canada’s foreign intelligence support to government partners in defence and security and enable close collaboration with our Five Eyes and regional partners,” she said.
“These four defence initiatives taken together will comprise a meaningful Canadian contribution to a safer and more peaceful Indo Pacific region.”