Defying pressure from the government of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the internationally respected Halifax International Security Forum (HFX) has awarded the John McCain Public Service Leadership Award to Taiwan leader Tsai Ing-wen for her aggression and resistance to Beijing.
According to an article in Politico, Canadian government officials who provide sponsorship funds to HFX urged the forum not to award the award to Tsai Ing-wen. Canadian Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan responded that this is absolutely wrong information, and the HFX forum has the right to make an independent choice. But the Chinese government has criticised the Canadian government for not doing so and is preparing to present the award to Ms Tsai. Sajan went on to stress that he would carefully study the forum’s annual funding request when it was received, and that no decision had yet been made on whether to renew the sponsorship this year.
Late last year, organizers of the HFX forum decided to award Tsai with their John McCain Public Service Leadership Award, according to multiple people familiar with the matter. This will be the third time HFX has awarded the McCain Award, the first being in 2018, for the efforts of people on the Greek island of Lesbos to save refugees. The second, in 2019, was awarded to Hong Kong citizens protesting.
The report also said that when Canadian officials learned of the award plan the forum wanted to implement, they made it clear that the Canadian government would withdraw its support and funding from the HFX forum if the organizers gave the honor to Tsai. Robin Shepherd, vice chairman of the HFX Forum, which is sponsored by Canada, stressed in a statement: “Taiwan’s Tsai Ing-wen, a strong advocate of democracy, is the perfect choice for this award.”
Notably, the HFX Forum states on its website that it is committed to strengthening strategic cooperation with democratic countries and regions. They also claim to be critical of Beijing’s authoritarian expansionism and last year published the HFX Forum Handbook for Democracies. The publication highlights the serious challenges facing China, and the HFX Forum promises donors that their contributions to the forum will strengthen Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government to “build a solid foundation to counter China.”
“The two sides have friendly relations and are like-minded partners who share the values of democracy, the rule of law and human rights,” Taiwan’s Foreign Affairs Department said. Trudeau also publicly affirmed Taiwan’s democratic system and supported Taiwan’s meaningful participation in international multilateral forums. “We thank the Canadian government for its long-term and firm support for Taiwan’s participation in international organizations. Taiwan shares values based on freedom and democracy, and will continue to keep in close contact with the Canadian government, the HFX Forum and other Canadian friends.”
Trudeau did not appear to be happy with this, and Ottawa is doing its best to avoid any further clashes with Beijing authorities after tensions between China and Canada surged in December 2018. The Canadian government arrested Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer, while China arrested Michael Kovrig, a former Canadian diplomat, and Michael Spavor, an entrepreneur. Canada arrested Ms. Meng because the United States wanted to bring her to the United States for fraud trial under the terms of its extradition clause. China, for its part, has given few details of the charges, allowing only occasional access to the detainees.
“The government of Canada provides financial support to the HFX Forum through a donation agreement with the Forum,” Todd Ryan, spokesman for Canadian Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan, said in a statement. Despite the financial support, the Ministry of Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces are not directly involved in the planning of the Forum. The organisers liaise with us and other organisations to engage with panelists on various topics and the Government of Canada will provide support where appropriate.”