Charlie Wu's dream of initiating an art and cultural relationship with the Taiwanese city of Kaohsiung came one step closer to reality when he heard about Vancouver's new "Friendship City Program."
This September, Vancouver city council passed a motion to establish the program, allowing it to partner with cities worldwide to build cultural and business relationships.
Applications to add a new friendship city are expected from non-profit community organizations like Wu's Asian-Canadian Special Events Association, known for running large events like Taiwan Fest in Vancouver.
"There's a lot of opportunities for our art community to leverage on. Kaohsiung has become sort of an art and cultural Mecca in Asia or Southeast Asia," said Wu.
But the Chinese Consulate in Vancouver released a statement this week objecting to the friendship city plan, saying, "We ... firmly oppose any official ties in any form between the city of Vancouver and cities in the Taiwan region."
The island nation has come under growing military and political pressure to accept Beijing's rule.
China claims Taiwan as part of its national territory, but the island has been self-ruled since it split from China in 1949 after a long civil war.
Under Canada's "One China" stance, Canada does not recognize Taiwan as a sovereign state and does not maintain official, government-to-government relations.
The consulate's response calls on the international community to recognize the "One China" principle, which insists there is only one China and Taiwan is part of its rule, according to Josephine Chiu-Duke, associate professor of Asian Studies at the University of British Columbia.
But rejecting a friendship city is unusual, she said.
"I felt a little bit surprised, because this is quite normal for cities to exchange — cultural exchange, academic exchange, and so on," said Chiu-Duke.
"Perhaps they wanted to issue certain kinds of strong statements with regard to their power over certain areas in Asia and particularly in Taiwan, to the international community."
The consulate said Taiwan is an inalienable part of the Chinese territory and establishing a friendship city would be an "official exchange and official mechanism."
The statement said "no official interaction with the Taiwan authorities in any form is an inherent requirement of the one-China principle."
The gesture of establishing friendship cities should be far removed from high-stakes global politics, said Alvin Singh, communications director for Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart's office.
"That's really the opposite of that. It's people in their communities that have a relationship to some other place where they came from. And they want to express that ... through art, exhibitions and music and food festivals." said Singh.
Frustration builds for community group
For Wu, the consulate's response is disappointing.
"I'm angry. And I'm also very flustered that we have to deal with the Chinese government's assertion all the time," he said.
Wu's aspirations included cultivating a cultural festival hosted in Taiwan and Vancouver on a rotating annual basis.
The City of Vancouver says the Friendship City program is still developing. Though Wu sent a letter of interest about Kaohsiung, the city says there have been no official applications so far.
According to the city, the program is a cheaper alternative to the sister-city program, which promotes educational and business exchanges. Vancouver already has sister agreements with Edinburgh, Odessa, Guangzhou, Yokohama and Los Angeles.
Every Friendship City agreement will also require a separate council motion.
Singh said any foreign pushback for the program will be a matter for Vancouver council to vote on in the future.
For Wu, the hope is to continue building Vancouver's arts community.
"If we can start off with this relationship with Taiwan, and maybe the other cities around the world, come join me," he said.