Like The Hub?
Join our community.
Join

Joe Varner: Canada must stand up for democracy and stand by Taiwan

Commentary

Rudyard Griffiths’ interview with Chinese scholar Professor Zhang Weiwei, the Dean of the China Institute at Fudan University, is another insight into how Beijing views the world, and just how dangerous the situation is between a growing superpower in China and its neighbours, particularly Taiwan.

In the interview, Zhang said, “The Chinese foreign minister talked with his counterpart in the United States, Secretary of State Blinken, where he basically drew three red lines. One is state sovereignty, which cannot be encroached upon. That has to do with Taiwan, Tibet, Xinjiang, and Chinese islands in the South China Sea, etc. The other is that China’s political system cannot be challenged.” 

Within a day of The Hub’s interview, China’s outspoken ambassador to Canada Cong Peiwu warned that Beijing wanted good relations with Canada, but “People have to understand the real status quo in the Taiwan Strait. The status quo in real terms is that there is one China in the world, of which Taiwan is an inalienable part.” Sadly, these sentiments are not new. In July 2019 China published its latest defence white paper, National Defense in the New Era, outlining its strategic guidance for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in what China termed a “new era.”  In the document, China used unprecedented language not seen in previous defence white papers, warning Taiwan and the world that:

“China has the firm resolve and the ability to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity and will never allow the secession of any part of its territory by anyone, any organization, or any political party by any means at any time. We make no promise to renounce the use of force and reserve the option of taking all necessary measures.” 

 In January of 2021, President Xi ordered that the PLA move to “full-time combat readiness” and that it must be ready to “act at any second.” China’s air incursion against Taiwan last week included 27 warplanes, including early warning, electronic warfare, strategic nuclear-capable bombers, refueling aircraft, and fighter planes. This represents the first time an airborne tanker was deployed to Taiwan’s air defense zone of ADIZ. Like India in the Himalayas and Japan in the Senkaku Islands, Beijing tests Taiwan’s democracy every day in some manner, probing for weakness and looking for a moment to strike. 

Beijing tests Taiwan’s democracy every day.

Beijing considers Taiwan a renegade province, and many democratic countries with multi-lateral or bilateral defense ties within the Indo-Pacific region have been forced to pay lip service to a “One China Policy”. But there remains the uncomfortable truth that Taiwan is a thriving democracy and has little in common interest with the mainland. Taiwanese public opinion is geared toward the status quo, but it will fight rather than succumb to Chinese military force. Some 77 percent of Taiwanese favour independence under peaceful conditions, and some 60 percent of Taiwanese support independence in the face of a Chinese attack. 

If there is to be reunification between Taiwan and China, it will be through force of arms. That should be a concern to any democracy, including Canada. This is a potential conflict with broader implications—it is important to note that Taiwanese security is linked to Japanese security, and Japan is vital to the U.S. national interest in the Indo-Pacific. 

At present, a Chinese move to invade Taiwan would be fraught with challenges. Specifically, the number of troops needed to seize the island in offensive operations should the Taiwanese choose to fight, not to mention the logistic challenges of getting those forces to Taiwan and keeping them there. But that will change in President Xi’s favor in the next three to five years, and Taiwan without outside assistance will be vulnerable to invasion.

Beijing could without too much trouble seize Taiwan’s offshore island possessions, such as the strategic Pratas Island, and it could attempt to blockade Taiwan until the government gives in or Western naval intervention saves the day. China could employ missile drills to shut down the shipping routes to Taiwanese ports or attempt to subdue the island without landing forces (though they would still be needed at some point to bring about victory).

Beijing has several hybrid warfare options at its disposal, including assassination, economic warfare, cyber-attack, and subverting Taiwanese elections to empower a Chinese political ally who would then simply hand over the government. Although unlikely, China could deploy nuclear weapons to Taiwanese ports on commercial ships and use them to hold the island state hostage or employ them for an electromagnetic pulse attack. It could even carry out nuclear strikes on Taipei or other Taiwanese cities in an all-out war, but that is an unlikely and worst-case scenario. In real terms, Taiwan is in big trouble without Western military, pollical, and economic support. 

Canada has a role to play in U.S.-led moves to contain China and to protect those allied states under threat in the region. We have both economic and strategic military interests at stake in the Indo-Pacific, and they do not rest with a hegemonic Beijing. Do we as Canadians really want to align our interests with a country that takes our citizens hostage, bullies its neighbours, is a genocidal police state that imprisons millions of its own Turkic peoples, and disappears its democratic activists and even its athletes ahead of the Olympics.

Sitting on our hands waiting for a Chinese invasion of Taiwan to take place ensures Taipei’s ultimate defeat. A hungry China will then turn its attention to Japan and Australia. Canada and other Western democracies need to engage now before Taiwan and the rest of us are on the receiving end of a Chinese fait acompli

Canada needs the political will to stand tall against Beijing.

It is high time for Canada to consider military options to help deter war between China and Taiwan and our traditional military allies in the region. China is not turning back from its plan to reunify the island state with the mainland absent outside intervention. Canada no longer has the luxury of sitting on the fence. Beijing has made it crystal clear that you are either with them or against them, there is no middle ground.

Canada may be a small factor in this fight, but in coordinating with allies—Taiwan, the U.S., Japan, South Korea, and India—Canada could help to deter the Chinese attack on Taiwan. Freedom of Navigation Operations with deployed Canadian warships sailing through the Taiwan Straits demonstrates to China that Taiwan is free and that we want to keep it that way. Canada could provide training to Taiwanese special forces and military leaders at Canada’s military educational institutions. 

Finally, as China ratchets up tensions we could, as Canada has done before in the Baltic States, send land, air, and sea tripwire forces to the region. Here Canada could provide Taiwan and the U.S. with a small but powerful deterrent in forward deploying stealth vessels to the area around Tawain, namely our Victoria class diesel-electric patrol submarines.

More than anything, though, Canada needs the political will to stand tall against Beijing and send a clear message to the Chinese Communist Party that we stand for the rule of law, democracy, and a peaceful and stable Indo-Pacific. Some good places to start would be to push for Taipei’s membership in WHO, ban Huawei from our 5G telecommunications system, and consider a boycott of the Beijing Olympics. Military force is not the only way to deter China and get President Xi’s attention.     

Malcolm Jolley: When is sweet too-sweet? A note on residual sugar and Italian wines

Commentary

Here in Toronto, the wine trade is still inching towards some kind of post-pandemic normalcy. COVID and its effects remain strong enough to keep things weird, but there is discernible progress. Restaurants are pouring glasses of wine again, but many can’t keep open as much as their owners would like because of staff shortages. Agents are importing wine, but can’t always tell when they’ll be delivered because of the shipping crisis. And marketers, like the Italian Trade Agency, are once again holding real-life tastings, but in limited ways to reduce spread.

The version of a wine tasting held by the Italians this week was sit-down and curatorial. About two dozen wine trade and media people were spread out at individual tables with one aperitif and a dozen poured glasses of wine in front of us. The makers of the wine appeared on a large screen at the front of the room, and they Zoomed into the room as we tasted through their wines, led through by a prominent local wine critic.

The tasting was meant to restart the Italian Trade Commission’s annual grand tasting, which was suspended in 2020 because of the lockdowns. That tasting had grown to be one of the biggest in the city, with hundreds of open wines and dozens of producers. The room would be crowded by restaurateurs and the occasional journalist tasting and spitting as much as they could while chatting with their colleagues. The selection of wines for the subdued (though hopeful) 2021 version was chosen from producers that had done well in Canada, either in retail stores or restaurants in the last 25 years or so since the first big tasting in 1994. This is to say the wines were not obscure.

The wines ranged in age from two to five years old and in price from about $15 to $50; the mean and median age of the wines was three years, and $20 to $25 a bottle. Every bottle of wine is its own unique and distinct creation, but it could be reasonably said that the 12 wines could be fairly compared against each other. I go to Italian wine tastings because I like (most) Italian wine, and I found merit in all of them including a Piceno from the Marche, a Montepulciano from Abruzzo, a Barbera d’Asti from Piedmont, and a half dozen wines from Tuscany.

All the wines were good wines. If I preferred one over another, it was usually because of a personal preference or taste rather than for the quality of the winemaking or some kind of mythological problem. In this way, the three last wines I did not love; though I thought they were well made. What they had in common were relatively high levels of residual sugar.

Residual sugar refers to whatever sugar is leftover in a wine once fermentation has stopped. Grape juice turns to wine during fermentation when yeast turns sugars into alcohol. It’s conventional wisdom among oenological historians that in the old days wines tended to be sweeter than they are now. That fact may have had more to do with the lack of control winemakers had over fermentation than consumer taste, per se. Yeast will die in a cold, unheated cellar, leaving more sugar in the wine.

Residual sugar refers to whatever sugar is leftover in a wine once fermentation has stopped.

Once winemakers had temperature-controlled cellars, then temperature-controlled tanks, they could control the lifespan of their yeasts and decide their preferred ratio of sugar to alcohol. The first six wines I tasted all had residual sugar levels of 2 grams per litre, which is about as dry as can be. With minimum sugar levels, these wines showed greater acidity, a quality associated with palate-cleansing, food-friendly wines.

The last three wines had residual sugar levels closer to 10 grams per litre. Physiologically, or nutritionally, that’s not actually a huge difference. It’s roughly the difference between a solution of 0.02 percent sugar to 0.1 percent. By way of comparison, a soft drink might have 80 grams per litre, and a dessert wine might go up to 200. But the difference in winemaking style is enough for the tastebuds on the tongue to discern.

The three wines with relatively higher sugar levels were all from the Valpolicella region of Northeast Italy, near Verona. Two were Amarone, which is made in part with grapes that have been dried for a few months after harvest to concentrate their sugars. The other one was a Ripasso, which is wine into which the pressings from making Amarone are “re-passed” with fresh grapes to be made into wine. Amarone began to be made commercially in the 1960s as a dry version of a dessert wine called Ricioto. Once the winemakers of Valpolicella could control the conditions of their cellars, they could make a dry wine from a sweet one.

I hesitated to name the origins of the last three wines for two reasons. First, they were well made and were in balance. The Corvina grape that dominates the region’s red wine blends is highly acidic and can stand up to sweetness. The regular, or Classico, red wines of Valpolicella are known for their freshness. Second, I spent a week in Verona and Valpolicella tasting all kinds of Amarone and Ripasso, and there are lots of them made to super low sugar levels, often by new generation winemakers. There are modernizers modernizing a modernized wine.

All three of those wines are from relatively large producers whose labels are popular with Canadian consumers. I trust they know what they’re doing and they are meeting consumer demand. The provincial liquor monopolies don’t advertise their top-selling brands, but a quick look-up of one of America’s biggest-selling reds, available across Canada, showed a sugar level of 14 grams per litre.

The reason I could look up all of these wine’s sugar levels is that the Liquor Control Board of Ontario provides that information, as well as alcohol by volume percentages, at the LCBO website and at their shelving displays. The SAQ and BC Liquor do too. With red wine, it’s usually a pretty helpful indicator of the flavour profile of what’s in the bottle. It’s less helpful with white wines because they often have much higher levels of acid to balance the sugar and maintain freshness, but every clue helps in the search for a wine made in the style one likes.