Trudeau thanks Taiwan for surgical-mask donation; declines to criticize Chinese COVID response

Prime minister Justin Trudeau officially thanked Taiwan on its gift of 500,000 surgical masks to Canada on Friday - a day after federal foreign affairs minister Francois-Philippe Champagne declined to mention the Taipei government by name when pressed in parliament.

“I’m happy to thank Taiwan for its generous donation,” Trudeau said at his press conference Friday. “It is important at this point that all Canadians and all people around the world pull together and be there for each other, because this is a global challenge that’s going to face a global response. We need to this together, and we will.”

The topic of Taiwan and mainland China has re-emerged in Canadian political discourse in the last few months as the COVID-19 pandemic expands globally. Taiwan - which Beijing views as a rebel province after the defeated Chinese nationalist KMT faction fled to the island in 1949 - now operates as a full democracy and has been lauded as one of the most successful cases in battling COVID. Taiwan has also now expanded its capacity to manufacture face masks and have been gifting them to places like the United States and Europe - much to the dismay of Beijing.

On Thursday, Champagne was asked by Tories MP Ed Fast on recognizing Taiwan’s donation of surgical masks to Canada and responded by saying “Canada is grateful to all who have given supplies to Canada” and that “this is a common endeavour.” Ottawa has also been criticized for taking a softer stance on the role of Beijing in the early-days response to COVID-19 - a position that Trudeau maintained on Friday.

“My responsibility as prime minister is to make sure we are providing for Canadians and keeping Canadians safe,” he said when asked if Canada will respond to former Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull’s remarks that the world should stand up to increasingly aggressive moves by Beijing. “That’s the job people expect me to do, and that’s exactly what I’m doing. We are going to ensure that Canadians have the supplies, the equipment and the support they need to get through this pandemic. 

“Of course, at the same time, we will be asking difficult questions about how we are making it through this pandemic, how this came to happen, and how we can learn from this. There will be plenty of time for questions in the months to come.”

China is the world’s larges producer of PPEs, taking up about 50% of the global market.