Thunder Bay

Taiwanese community in Thunder Bay, Ont., fears Russia's Ukraine invasion could embolden China

Some Taiwanese-Canadians in northwestern Ontario say they are concerned that the Russian invasion of Ukraine could embolden China to invade their homeland.

As world watches Ukraine, U.S. sends delegation to Taiwan amid concerns China might invade

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen wears a "Stand with Ukraine" face mask while attending a dinner at the presidential building in Taipei, Taiwan, March 2, 2022. (Taiwan Presidential Office via Reuters)

Some Taiwanese-Canadians in northwestern Ontario say they are concerned that the Russian invasion of Ukraine could embolden China to target their homeland.

The United States has sent a delegation to Taiwan this week, amid fears that the Russian action could distract the West and provide Chinese president Xi Jinping with an opening to assert control there. 

"I have the same concern as many people," said Ann Cheng, who was born and raised in Taiwan, moved to Canada with her husband 10 years ago and now lives in Thunder Bay, Ont. 

"I think Xi Jinping is watching closely to see what will happen to Ukraine, and then he'll make plans."

China has already stepped up military flights into Taiwan's air defence zone in the past year, Cheng noted, and Xi has hinted in speeches that he intends to pursue what he calls Chinese reunification. 

More than one million people have fled Ukraine following Russia's invasion, and the UN says they will be followed by millions more unless the fighting stops immediately. However, there appeared to be no sign of that, as Russian forces continue to try to take control of Ukrainian cities. In the souththe port of Mariupol is surrounded by Russian troops, according to Ukrainian officials. Near the capital Kyiv, a large Russian convoy continues to threaten the city but has moved little in recent days.

Dispute over Taiwan's independence 

Taiwan, claimed by China as its own territory, is on alert in case Beijing tries to use the opportunity of the Ukraine crisis to make a move on the island, though the government has reported no unusual Chinese activity.

Beijing has vowed to bring the island under its control, by force if necessary, and has increased its military and political pressure against Taiwan to try and force the island to accept China's sovereignty.

Taiwan has vowed to defend itself if attacked.

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen walks with Mike Mullen, former chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, both wearing a "Stand with Ukraine" face mask, at the presidential building in Taipei, Taiwan, March 2, 2022. (Taiwan Presidential Office/ Reuters )

"China's military threat to the Taiwan Strait and to the region continues to rise," Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen told the U.S. delegation.

"We look forward to working even more closely with the U.S. and other stakeholders in the region, collectively responding to challenges and unilateral actions that could impact security, in order to maintain regional peace and stability," she said.

'My friend, she wants to bring her kids to Canada'

Cheng feels sad that China's position in the world prevents Taiwan from being recognized as a fully independent country, she said. But she believes her loved ones in her home country are trying not to overthink the current situation. 

"When you worry a lot then … your life will be very miserable," she said. "So people just wait and see."

Angel Chang's friends are already preparing mentally for a possible Chinese invasion, she said.

"My best friend's husband says if China's going to attack us, he will go to fight with them immediately," said Chang, who grew up in Taiwan and came to Canada 10 years ago. "But my friend, she wants to bring her kids to Canada, so she asked me about how to immigrate to Canada."

Eric Shih has family members back in Taiwan. He said he believes that people watching Ukrainians fight Russia are gaining a stronger appreciation of what it means to defend one's country. (Kirthana Sasitharan/CBC)

Chang and her husband, Eric Shih, plan to help Chang's parents emigrate to Canada once they've retired, but they said they might seek to speed up the timeline if circumstances in Taiwan change. 

People on the island are scared, Chang said.

Taking inspiration from Ukraine

"On the news they say, 'Right now it's Russia. The next one is Taiwan … so then people feel scared about China," she said. 

"They also look at the [United] States' reaction. A lot of Taiwanese, they think if China's going to attack Taiwan, the States will protect us, so they watch the reaction of the States right now."

Shih, who was born in Germany to Taiwanese parents and raised in Canada, said he believes the Russian invasion of Ukraine may influence a possible China-Taiwan conflict in ways foreign policy experts may not have considered.

Both Shih and Chang said they've heard Taiwanese people talk about restoring the mandatory two-year period of military service for men; conscripts currently serve just four months. 

"I think they're seeing the kind of fights that the Ukrainian people are putting up in defending their country," Shih said. "And I think that's changing a lot of the calculus of how people look at how important it is to defend one's country."

With files from Reuters