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Canada threatens to defund prestigious security forum over offending China, report says

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen. (Voice of America/Released)
April 12, 2021

The Canadian government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has reportedly threatened to end financial support for the Halifax Security Forum (HFX) over alleged plans for the security forum to present Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen with a new award.

According to sources who spoke with Politico on Sunday, the HFX plans to award Taiwan’s president with the 2020 John McCain Prize for leadership in public service, which has put the Canadian government at odds with the Chinese government. The Chinese government maintains a claim of sovereignty over Taiwan, and the decision to honor Taiwan’s president could put the Canadian government, a major sponsor of the Halifax forum, at odds with China.

The presentation would be the third time the HFX presented the honor. The John McCain award began after the late U.S. Senator died in 2018, and the first award was presented to the people of Lesbos, Greece, for their efforts to assist refugees. The 2019 award went to the citizen protesters in Hong Kong and the forum reportedly planned to present Tsai with the third award for standing strong against pressure from China.

According to Politico, when the Trudeau government learned of HFX’s plans to present Tsai with the award, they communicated that they would pull support and funding from the security forum.

The Halifax Forum is also supported by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and draws military and civilian leaders from around the world. The forum has previously hosted former U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel; Adm. Phil Davidson, the commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM); Canadian Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan; and officials from several countries, including Israel, Estonia, Afghanistan, Yemen, Poland and Japan.

HFX has not yet decided how to resolve the issue.

HFX Vice President Robin Shepherd in a statement. “HFX has not yet announced the winner of the 2020 John McCain Prize for leadership in public service. We look forward to making the announcement, and conducting a presentation event at an appropriate time, given the challenges that the Covid-19 pandemic presents. President Tsai of Taiwan is a respected international leader, the first female president of Taiwan, and a strong global advocate for democracy. She would certainly be an ideal fit for this award. At this time, we have no further announcements to make.”

The McCain Institute, chaired by the late-senator’s wife Cindy McCain, did not respond to Politico’s requests for comment.

The Trudeau government has, in the past, strained relationships with the Chinese government. In December 2018, Canadian authorities arrested a senior Huawei executive on behalf of the U.S. and China, in turn, arrested two Canadians and charged them with espionage.

In February, Canada’s House of Commons followed the U.S. in declaring China’s treatment of its Uyghur population “genocide.” The declaration prompted criticism from China and Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said the declaration “disregards facts and common sense.”

In response to Politico’s initial reporting about the controversy between the Trudeau government and the HFX forum, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), the ranking Republican on the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, threw his support behind Tsai receiving the McCain award.

“No world leader is more deserving of the recognition than President Tsai Ing-wen,” Rubio said. “President Tsai has stood firm against Beijing’s international bullying without undermining the status quo that has kept the peace for decades. Democracies worldwide should refuse to let Beijing dictate how we interact with Taiwan.”