Conservative leadership hopeful Scott Aitchison says it’s time to recognize Taiwan – National

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Conservative leadership hopeful Scott Aitchison said it was time to abandon Canada’s “One China” policy and officially recognize the government of Taiwan.

And he said conservatives should do so even if it risked deepening anger in Beijing, which he said intervened in the 2021 federal election to hurt the party’s chances in key constituencies.

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“It’s not just that conservatives have been targeted, it’s our very democracy that has been targeted,” Aitchison said in an interview with Global News on Tuesday.

“So even if it was a liberal who was targeted, it’s not true. We must stand against this.

Aitchison was responding to comments by former Conservative leader Erin O’Toole, who recently suggested that the party’s election autopsy found Conservatives in eight constituencies were targets of foreign influence campaigns, allegedly from the Chinese Communist regime.

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Citing a confidential source close to O’Toole, Global News reported in December 2021 that the party believed foreign influence had played a role in no less than 13 constituencies.

The Conservative Party has not released evidence to support the claims, but said Canada’s security agencies – including the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) – were aware of the activity. As part of the government’s federal election safeguard attempts, established ahead of the 2019 general election, security agencies can alert the public if they are concerned that foreign influence campaigns are serious enough to affect election results.

In a December statement, CSIS told Global News that the security community had not detected any threats rising to the level of jeopardizing a “free and fair election.”

Aitchison agreed that establishing formal diplomatic relations comes with risks. Beijing views Taiwan as a Chinese province, a view not shared by the democratically elected government in Taipei.

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The Conservative leadership aspirant also acknowledged that successive Canadian governments – including the former Conservative government under Stephen Harper – have tried to improve trade relations with the world’s second-largest economy, despite concerns over rights abuses rights by China and growing belligerence on the world stage.

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Aitchison expressed approval for the balance he believes two former prime ministers – Jean Chretien and Brian Mulroney – had in handling the relationship.

“Trade is one of the things the Chinese economy needs, especially in terms of the quantities of things like canola that people need,” Aitchison said.

“I don’t think it’s possible for China to completely close itself off from the world, because it needs what the world has.”

Aitchison has struggled to get much oxygen in the party’s leadership race, dominated by pugilist Pierre Poilievre and former Quebec premier Jean Charest. But the MP for Muskoka-Parry Sound presented himself as a unifying figure and urged his leadership rivals to treat each other with respect.

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It’s unclear how that message landed with Tory MPs, but it doesn’t appear to have convinced fellow candidates.

Aitchison admitted that whoever is chosen as Conservative leader on September 10 will face a serious challenge in keeping the party together.

“I don’t know if I can quantify how difficult it will be. I think I just agree it will be difficult,” Aitchison said, adding that caucus management needs to be “task number one” for the next leader.

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“Unity does not mean uniformity. It means listening to each other. It means that we have to get along, not that we will always agree. We have to find that common ground, (and) it takes work, energy and time and it doesn’t happen overnight… (It’s) a choice you make every day.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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