Strains in Canada’s relations with China, including the arbitrary detention of Canadian citizens Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, have led to unprecedented debate about how Canada should best manage relations with that powerful, authoritarian state. Former Canadian diplomats have already been arguing that constant deferral to Beijing only makes us seem weak. It is time that we think also about how Canadian acquiescence to China’s demands contributes to flaws in international safety and security.
One obvious flaw is that China has successfully excluded Taiwan from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which will be holding its triennial assembly at its Montréal headquarters at the end of September. Taiwan was invited to the 2013 Assembly, but because of Chinese pressure, the invitation was not extended in 2016.
Non-participation means that Taiwan relies on getting information from the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to gain information and conduct audits of Taiwan’s Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA). Although Washington and Taipei make best efforts, this still leads to delays in sharing important information. This is not acceptable for a country that hosted no less than 1.6 million flights and 66 million air passengers in 2017 (numbers roughly comparable to France and only slightly behind Australia).
Taiwan was invited to the 2013 Assembly, but because of Chinese pressure, the invitation was not extended in 2016
Integrating Taiwan into the ICAO should be a priority for Canada, without consideration of China’s disapproval, merely because of the close relationship between our two countries. The number of inbound visitors from Taiwan to Canada has nearly doubled from 70,000 in 2014 to nearly 134,000 in 2018. In the same period, 531,607 Canadians have visited Taiwan. This summer I took 15 students to Taiwan. I want them to be safe.
These travellers depend on 28 weekly flights from Canada to Taiwan, including a highly popular Air Canada flight direct from Vancouver to Taipei. This flight is an important link to Asia, not only for travellers to Taiwan, but also for the many Canadian citizens and immigrants flying onward to the Philippines, Vietnam, and India. It is in Canada’s best interest that Taiwan’s airport administrators can facilitate their arrival and onward travel in accordance with up-to-date information and best practices from ICAO.
Due to increased civilian air travel, ICAO is making a number of important innovations. The organization has just this year launched new guidance supporting the prevention and management of unruly and disruptive passengers. They have also made important efforts to facilitate passenger travel through airports, while limiting the movement of foreign terrorist fighters. This involves the ability to collect, process and analyze passenger name record data; and to share it with all national aviation authorities. Leaving out an aviation authority as important as Taiwan leaves a potentially dangerous gap in the world’s aviation security system.
At the G7 summit in April, member countries demanded early and substantive implementation of the Global Avian Security Plan and a security focus to the 2019 ICAO Assembly. The communiqué, signed by Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, says that excluding parties for political purposes compromises aviation safely and security. China excludes Taiwan by cynically claiming to represent it. Since the Civil Aviation Administration of China has absolutely no authority over Taiwan’s CAA or even a single agent in a Taiwanese airport, this claim is an obvious fiction. It is effectively a political boycott of Taiwan. We have gone along with it long enough.
Supporting Taiwan’s meaningful participation in ICAO is not a radical move. The United States has supported Taiwan’s participation under the administrations of both Barack Obama and Donald Trump. The United States even includes arriving airline passengers from Taiwan as part of a select group of only 13 countries in its Global Entry Program.
Canada can make the most meaningful demand for Taiwan’s participation in ICAO, for the simple reason that the triennial assembly meets in Montréal. Canadian support for Taiwan in ICAO is in our best interests because it would heighten aviation security in a country with many daily flights to and from Canada. It will also send a signal to China that we can strongly stand up for our best interests and for our democratic friends in Taiwan, without simply bowing down to Chinese orders. That kind of resolve might be the best way to get our hostages back and improve our national stature in Beijing.