Ottawa sends Beijing envoy to Taiwan amid rising tensions with China

Jim Nickel, deputy head of mission of the Canadian embassy in Beijing, in the border city of Dandong in China’s northeast Liaoning province on March 19, 2021.NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty Images

The federal government is sending its acting envoy in Beijing to take on the unofficial role of Ottawa’s ambassador to Taiwan amid China’s escalating military threats against the self-governed island, three sources say.

Jim Nickel, chargé d’affaires in Beijing, will become executive director of the Canadian Trade Office in Taipei, Canada’s unofficial embassy in Taiwan, according to two Canadian officials and a source in the Taiwanese government. He replaces diplomat Jordan Reeves.

“It’s a good move because Jim will be one of the more senior guys we’ve sent to Taipei, and because of his experience in Beijing, I think he will be an important person to provide advice back to Ottawa,” said Guy Saint- Jacques, a former Canadian ambassador to China.

Mr. Saint-Jacques said Mr. Nickel is an experienced diplomat who will give Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly on-the-ground intelligence on Chinese aggression against Taiwan and strategic input into the Indo-Pacific strategy that is being drafted by her department.

He added that Mr. Nickel will be able to provide analysis on Chinese disinformation campaigns in Taiwan and their efforts to influence the election in two years’ time as well as military tactics and maneuvers in the Taiwan Strait and the Indo-Pacific region.

The two Canadian officials say Ms. Joly has selected a female career diplomat to replace Dominic Barton, who resigned in December to become chairman of the mining giant Rio Tinto, but Beijing has not yet approved the appointment. Both sources say there has been no pushback from China about the pending appointment of Mr. Nickel. The Globe and Mail is not identifying the Canadian officials or the Taiwanese source because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the matter.

David Mulroney, who also served as ambassador to China, praised Mr. Nickel as “exceptionally competent” and noted that Taipei is an important post.

“It is one of our larger and more important posts in terms of staffing, the significance of our interests, and the complexity of the issues,” Mr. Mulroney said.

Beijing has repeatedly conducted military drills simulating the invasion of Taiwan, and in recent years has militarized the South China Sea and stepped up intimidating warplane sorties against Taiwan. Beijing has never ruled out the use of force to bring Taipei under its control.

Canada does not recognize Taiwan as a sovereign state and does not maintain official government-to-government relations with Taipei.

Mr. Nickel, who is in Ottawa for briefings at Global Affairs, has been acting ambassador to China after Mr. Barton’s resignation. Mr. Barton was praised for helping secure the release of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor from Chinese custody, but criticized for strongly pushing closer trade ties with Beijing and ignoring China’s human-rights abuses.

The Canadian officials say China lodged a formal complaint to Global Affairs about a planned visit by a Canadian parliamentary delegation to Taipei in early October.

China does not approve of foreign politicians visiting Taiwan. Beijing’s authoritarian rulers consider Taiwan a breakaway province even though the Chinese Communist Party, which seized power on the mainland more than 70 years ago, has never ruled the island.

“China firmly opposes any form of official exchanges between the Taiwan region and countries having diplomatic relations with China,” the Chinese embassy in Ottawa said in a statement Wednesday. “We urge the Canadian side to abide by the one-China principle and respect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

The embassy warned that “China will take resolute and forceful measures against any country that attempts to interfere with or infringe upon China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Veteran Liberal MP Judy Sgro, who heads the Taiwan-Canada Parliamentary Friendship Group, acknowledged that the Chinese embassy had lodged a formal complaint but said Canadian MPs would not be bullied by China.

She said the goal of the visit in the week of Oct. 8 is to enhance the relationship with Taipei and noted that members of the group usually visit the island democracy twice a year.

“They [China] have complained before and I know they have complained this time but I don’t think we should be bullied by anybody,” she said in an interview Wednesday. “We are enhancing democracy and respect for democracy and building relationships. We are not going there to comment on what China does.”

Now that the COVID-19 pandemic appears to be on the wane, Ms. Sgro said Canadian parliamentarians are eager to visit Taiwan and their trip would seek to expand commercial ties between both countries.

The Communist Party has not ruled out using force to take control of Taiwan, which peacefully transitioned to democracy from martial law in the late 20th century.

In August, China encircled Taiwan with threatening military exercises that included firing missiles near the island after Taipei played host to US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the highest ranking American official to visit in decades.

Last month, China fired missiles over the island and sailed warships near Taiwan after Ms. Pelosi’s visit, which Beijing declared as a provocation.

In the wake of the Pelosi visit, other Western legislators are scheduling visits to Taiwan, including a delegation from Germany.

Canadian warships transit the Taiwan Strait about once a year. Last October, the Chinese military condemned Canada and the United States for each sending a warship through the disputed waters, saying they were threatening peace and stability in the region.

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