Tsai is the 2020 recipient of the John McCain Award for Leadership in the Public Service, the Halifax International Security Forum (HFX) announced on Monday evening. Although now independent, the Washington DC-based International Security Forum was founded by the Canadian government and receives significant funding from Ottawa.
This year’s award is the second in a row that Beijing will likely displease, after the 2019 award went to the people of Hong Kong “for their courageous fight for their rights in the face of oppression from the Chinese government.” Beijing sees autonomous and democratic Taiwan as part of its territory, and Tsai is a figure of disgust in the Chinese state media.
Ottawa had previously been forced to deny reports that it had tried to block the awarding of the award to Tsai, after Politico, a media partner of HFX, reported in April that ministers had threatened to withdraw funds if the leader Taiwanese was chosen.
Speaking to lawmakers later that month, Canadian Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan said the reports were “absolutely false.” Sajjan said HFX was fully independent, and added that he had “authorized funding for (the forum) twice last year”.
Following the controversy, Canadian lawmakers unanimously voted for a non-binding motion urging the government to continue funding the award, saying Tsai “is a well-respected international leader, Taiwan’s first female president and a ardent global defender of democracy. .. she would certainly be the perfect fit for this price. ”
Responding to the vote, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Beijing “deplores and rejects the bad Taiwan motion passed by the Canadian House of Commons.”
“Canada should recognize that the Taiwan issue is extremely sensitive, treat Taiwan-related issues cautiously and correctly, and avoid further undermining bilateral relations,” Zhao said.
It was the second motion in months that put the Canadian government in an awkward position with China, after parliament voted in February to declare the situation in Xinjiang – where Beijing has been accused of detaining millions of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities – a “genocide.”
Relations between Ottawa and Beijing have collapsed in recent years, following the 2018 arrest in Vancouver of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, who is currently fighting extradition to the United States, where she is wanted. for allegedly violating sanctions against Iran.
Following Meng’s arrest, two Canadians – Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor – were detained in China and then charged with espionage. The pair were ultimately tried in March, in separate closed-door hearings that have been widely denounced by Western governments.
The government of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has come under heavy criticism for its inability to help the two men, with many lawmakers pushing Ottawa to take a more aggressive stance towards China.
In March, Beijing sanctioned a number of Canadians, including Conservative MP and shadow foreign minister Michael Chong, for spreading what it called “rumors and misinformation” about Xinjiang. Chong described
its designation as a “badge of honor” and declared that Canadians have a “duty” to speak out against Beijing over the repression in Hong Kong and the “genocide” in Xinjiang.