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Taiwan president awarded John McCain Prize despite 'poking Chinese bear' fears

Tsai Ing-wen honored with HFX award, claims Justin Trudeau tried to change decision denied

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen. 

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen.  (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) was bestowed the John McCain Prize for Leadership in Public Service by the Halifax International Security Forum (HFX) on Tuesday (May 4) despite reports the Canadian government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attempted to pressure the organization not to give Tsai the award.

On April 11, Politico cited multiple sources as saying that the HFX planned to present its John McCain Prize for Leadership in Public Service to Tsai. However, according to the news site, when the Trudeau administration became aware of this, it feared "poking the Chinese bear" and threatened to end funding for the forum.

When questioned about this, Canadian Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan told lawmakers on April 12 that the reports were "absolutely false" and that he had authorized funding for the organization twice in the previous year. When he was asked whether the HFX would still give the award to Tsai, Sajjan said, "I'm not understanding the question" and that the forum would decide.

Conservative MP Michael Chong on April 14 responded to the report by accusing Trudeau's government of playing into Beijing's hands, reported Global News. “The government’s attempt to silence those critical of China is shameful, and it plays right into China’s desire to silence its critics abroad,” said Chong.

That same day, the House of Commons unanimously passed a two-part motion from Chong. First, the motion agreed with the forum's Vice President Robin Shepherd, who stated that Tsai "is a well-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."

Second, the motion urged the government to maintain its funding levels for the forum, even if the John McCain award is bestowed on Tsai.

At 9 a.m. on Tuesday morning Taipei Time, the HFX on its official Twitter page announced the recipient of this year's award and included a video that both recalled McCain's sacrifices during the Vietnam War and his career as a senator, along with Tsai's defiant leadership in Taiwan despite threats of war from China's Chairman Xi Jinping (習近平). This marks the third time the award has been given, following the people of the Greek island of Lesbos in Greece, and pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong in 2019.

In response, Presidential Spokesperson Xavier Chang (張惇涵) said that Tsai was honored to receive the award and stressed that it "is an honor for all Taiwanese people." Chang cited Tsai as saying that "Democracy and freedom are the best award for Taiwan to gain a foothold in the world."

Tsai pointed out that Taiwan's success in epidemic prevention also proves that "Taiwan united as one is a force for good that is capable of contributing to the world." Chang said the late senator had fought for democracy and freedom throughout his life and had worked tirelessly to improve Taiwan's security.

Chang said giving the award to Tsai is an affirmation of the Taiwanese, who adhere to the democratic system and successfully fought the pandemic under this system. He added the Office of the President has expressed its gratitude and sincerely thanks "friends from all walks of life in the world for their firm support for Taiwan."

The John McCain Prize for Leadership in Public Service 2020 from HFX on Vimeo.