Taipei Economic and Cultural Office shows how diplomatic soft power works on the ground in Vancouver

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      When former prime minister Pierre Trudeau's government established diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China in 1970, it pushed the island nation of Taiwan (Republic of China) to the diplomatic sidelines. That's because the Communist Party of China insisted that there could only be one China in the world. 

      But since then, Taiwan has staged a remarkable diplomatic comeback even without an embassy in Ottawa or an official consulate in Vancouver.

      It's been done with the help of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, which has been employing soft power for many years to win the hearts of many Canadians.

      This was on display earlier this year when the Taiwanese government donated $60,000 to relief efforts to help residents of Fort McMurray recover from a devastating wildfire.

      Soft power is a term developed by Harvard academic Joseph Nye to describe how countries can win friends to achieve desired diplomatic results. It doesn't rely on threats or military force; rather, it's accomplished by highlighting what the countries have in common.

      In recent years, diplomats from a variety of countries, including the United States, relied in part on nongovernmental organizations in host nations to advance these efforts.

      Taiwan's trump cards are its thriving democracy and its ascension as a hotbed of arts, culture, and indie music in Asia.

      "A country may obtain the outcomes it wants in world politics because other countries—admiring its values, emulating its example, aspiring to its level of prosperity and openness—want to follow it," Nye wrote in his 2004 book Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics.

      The Taipei Economic Cultural Office in Vancouver's version of soft power has been on display through a variety of cultural initiatives. A series of directors general, most recently Tom Lee, have helped form deep and lasting friendships between Canadians and the Taiwanese people.

      In 2014, the press division director, Vivian Lee, worked closely with Taiwanese Canadian Cultural Society CEO Cecilia Chueh and officials at UBC to present the Made in Taiwan art exhibit at the Irving Barber Learning Centre. It featured a great deal of indigenous art from Taiwan. This reinforced a similarity with B.C., which is also a centre for indigenous art.

      The Taipei Economic and Cultural Office also worked behind the scenes to bring a much bigger exhibition called (In)visible: The Spiritual World of Taiwan Contemporary Art to the Museum of Anthropology at UBC from November 2015 to April 16.

      "It’s a truly captivating installation, immersive and, in many ways, overwhelming—and impossible to see or comprehend in one visit," wrote Straight visual-arts critic Robin Laurence.

      Vancouver Centre Liberal MP Hedy Fry joined TECO in Vancouver director general Tom Lee at this year's Vancouver Taiwanese Film Festival.
      Charlie Smith

      In addition, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Vancouver supports the annual LunarFest celebration on the north side of the Vancouver Art Gallery. This year's version showcased Taiwanese and Canadian artists whose work focused on monkeys. This was done to bring in the Year of the Monkey.

      In May, Taiwanese arts troupes were in town for Vancouver Asian Heritage Month. Then in June, the Vancouver Taiwanese Film Festival was held at the Vancity Theatre, drawing a bevy of Canadian politicians to the opening ceremony. 

      At this event, Vancouver Centre Liberal MP Hedy Fry brought personal greetings from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Fry also commented on how much she enjoyed attending Taiwan's world-renowned Cloud Gate Dance Theatre performance in Vancouver during the 2010 Winter Games.

      The Vancouver Taiwanese Film Festival is presented by the Taiwanese Canadian Cultural Society and UBC Literature Etc., which is a nonprofit student organization that highlights music, film, photography, literature, and fine arts.

      The title sponsors of the festival are TECO in Vancouver, the Taiwanese Ministry of Culture, and the Taiwan Tourism Bureau.

      TaiwanFest organizer Charlie Wu can be spotted walking up and down Granville Street every Labour Day weekend.
      Charlie Smith

      Many Lower Mainland residents don't realize that Burnaby is home to Canada's largest Taiwanese community. And next May, the first Taiwanese-born Canadian could be elected to the B.C. legislature. That's because Coun. Anne Kang has been nominated as the NDP candidate in Burnaby-Deer Lake. She, too, was in attendance at the opening ceremony and brought greetings on behalf of Burnaby mayor Derek Corrigan.

      On the Labour Day weekend, the annual TaiwanFest will take place in downtown Vancouver. This celebration of Taiwanese culture is put on by the Asian-Canadian Special Events Association with support from the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Vancouver.

      Last year, TaiwanFest featured the first "Friendship Bento", with 100 Taiwanese having a six-course meal with 100 Canadians on tables along Granville Street. The chief organizer of TaiwanFest and LunarFest , Taiwan-born Charlie Wu, won the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association's Outstanding Individual Award in 2014 for his efforts to enliven the city. 

      Wu's tireless efforts to increase appreciation for Taiwan is another example of how soft power is yielding results. Over the years, he's worked with the Vancouver Children's Festival, the PuSh Festival for the Performing Arts, the C3 Korean Canadian Society, and countless other organizations to build bridges between people of different cultural backgrounds in Vancouver.

      Taiwanese film director Mark Ang, TECO in Vancouver's Vivian Lee, and Cheryl Robbins—an expert in Taiwanese indigenous culture—were all at the opening of TaiwanFest in 2015.

      Late last month, TECO in Vancouver's energetic press-division director, Vivian Lee, returned to Taipei after an impressive six-year stay in Vancouver. The quiet diplomacy that she and her colleagues have practised will continue to leave a lasting mark on the city. As a result of a breathtaking array of arts and cultural initiatives supported by their office, Taiwan is now seen in an entirely new light by many Metro Vancouver residents.