Will China Allow Taiwan to Participate in UN Aviation Meeting in Montreal?

ICAO Council president Dr. Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu addresses the opening session of the International Civil Aviation Organization World Aviation Forum in Montreal on Nov. 23, 2015. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson)

As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prepares to embark on a trip to China to win friends and open up business opportunities for Canada, an issue of critical importance involving one of China’s neighbours is quietly simmering on the back burner.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)—a specialized U.N. agency that regulates international civil aviation and promotes its orderly development throughout the world—is preparing for its triennial meeting at its headquarters in Montreal this fall.

But Taiwan’s participation in this assembly of 191 member-states is hanging in the balance because the island nation’s new government has shifted slightly away from China’s embrace.

Linked to Canada by shared democratic values and a longtime friendship, Taiwan is considered a renegade province by China, and has been in diplomatic limbo ever since the U.N. recognized mainland China as a member-state in 1971. This effectively barred independent Taiwanese representation in the U.N. itself and all its agencies, including the ICAO.

Despite Taiwan’s diplomatic limbo status, it participated in the last ICAO meeting in 2013 with China’s blessing under the name Chinese Taipei.

This year, however, it is not clear if China will allow Taiwan’s participation because of slightly cooling relations between the two countries since the Democratic Peoples’ Party (DPP) under President Tsai Ing-wen came to power after the January 2016 election. The DPP—unlike its predecessor the Kuomintang Party under President MaYing-jeou—has traditionally shied away from a too-close relationship with its behemoth neighbour across the Taiwan Strait.

However, Taiwan’s participation in the ICAO meeting is of critical importance according to  ICAO’s  ‘Seamless Skies’ goal and “No Country Left Behind” initiative, both of which were created to ensure that all the world’s countries are in harmony over flight safety standards and regulations.

During a recent visit to Singapore, ICAO secretary general Fang Liu (who is herself from China) stressed the critical importance of partnership and cooperation among local (Asian) states in order to help ensure that Asia-Pacific traffic growth is managed safely and efficiently.
This partnership and cooperation are critical, not only for Asia but also for Canada and the entire international community, according to Taiwanese officials in Canada.

Taiwan’s capital Taipei is a major flight hub and is the 11th largest airport in the world, serving 38 million international passengers annually.

“There are 17 scheduled flights weekly between Vancouver and Toronto to Taipei,” said an official with the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Ottawa.  He pointed out that 50,000 Canadians live in Taiwan and more than 200,000 Taiwanese Canadians live in Canada.

“A large number of people and goods are travelling between two countries daily. If Taiwan is not included in the ICAO system, it doesn’t serve Canadian national interests. Flight safety and security should be our priority concern, not politics,” he said.

Rong-chuan Wu, Taiwan’s representative in Canada, said:  “Taiwan’s participation in the ICAO is the consensus of both our main political parties—the DPP and KMT—and the expectation of the 23 million people in our young democracy.”

Wu added that the newly established DPP government in Taiwan has constantly extended olive branches to China and managed so far to maintain the status quo of peace and harmony on the two sides of the Strait, which not only serves the best interests of Taiwan and China, but maintains regional stability as well.  

He stated that Taiwan deserves the support of the international community to participate in this important meeting.

“As the host country of ICAO, Canada is most qualified to play such a constructive role [of supporting Taiwan’s inclusion],” he said.

To appease Beijing—for whom the slightest hint of Taiwan’s independence is anathema—the island nation has, like last time, applied to participate in the ICAO meeting under the name Chinese Taipei.

The result so far? A stony silence from China.

Susan Korah is a freelance journalist based in Ottawa. She has a Master of Journalism degree from Carleton University, and writes on Canadian and international politics as well as travel and lifestyle.

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