“President Tsai is an inspiration and example to freedom-loving people everywhere,” said Forum President Peter Van Praagh. “Their courage and strength in defending their people against the Chinese Communist Party’s aggression are exactly the qualities that the John McCain Prize should recognize.”
The award is given each year at the forum’s event in Halifax, but the 2020 conference has been canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Van Praagh said the forum will personally present the award to Tsai at a ceremony scheduled “in due course”.
The forum welcomed Tsai on Monday by posting a video calling her “another freedom advocate.” The video contains news clips describing her as arguably the most powerful politician in the Chinese-speaking world.
“I want to assure people that we will neither escalate nor give in to the confrontation,” Tsai said in a clip of a speech in the video.
Beijing does not recognize Taiwan’s independence and has long sought control over it. China has targeted island democracy for months with a hybrid war campaign, including election disruption, cyberattacks, and military planes cruising around its airspace. The Taiwanese economy has suffered from heightened fears of total invasion.
After it became known that Canada was pressuring the Forum over the award, Trudeau’s Liberal government and the Prime Minister himself faced sharp questions about the story in Parliament.
Days after the POLITICO article, the House of Commons unanimously passed a token, non-binding motion in support of the Halifax Forum’s decision to award Tsai the prestigious award.
However, Trudeau’s government seemed uncomfortable with the award going to Tsai at the event in Canada.
Ottawa has made efforts not to provoke Beijing as it seeks to secure the release of two Canadians from behind bars in China.
Diplomatic relations between Ottawa and Beijing have deteriorated since Canadian authorities arrested Huawei senior manager Meng Wanzhou in December 2018 on a US extradition warrant. Beijing has called the arrest of Meng, the daughter of the founder of the Chinese telecommunications giant, a political act on behalf of the United States and has demanded her release.
The U.S. Department of Justice last year accused Huawei of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) law, which is most commonly accused of organized crime.
Tensions between Canada and China increased days after Meng’s arrest when China rounded two Canadians in an apparent retaliation. The men were recently charged with espionage; They are currently awaiting judgments and, if convicted, potentially long sentences.
Securing the release of Michael Kovrig, a diplomat on leave, and Michael Spavor, an entrepreneur who introduced basketball legend Dennis Rodman to North Korean leader Kim Jong Unhas become one of Trudeau’s greatest foreign policy challenges. Kovrig and Spavor are colloquially known in Canada as the “Two Michaels”.
The dispute also had economic consequences. China, Canada’s second largest trading partner, halted some major Canadian agricultural imports after Meng’s arrest.
The annual Halifax Forum event takes place in Canada and is the main sponsor Ottawa spends around C $ 3 million a year to the conference.