Fen Osler Hampson is Chancellor’s Professor at Carleton University, co-author of Diplomacy and the Future of World Order, and a member of the Canada-Korea Dialogue Steering Group.
Shortly after she was sworn in as Canada’s new Foreign Minister, Mélanie Joly said that she wants to conduct Canada’s international affairs with “humility and audacity.” Given the many challenges Canada confronts in its international relations, let us hope she is more audacious than humble.
Ms. Joly’s first priority should be China and Canada’s broader relations with the Indo-Pacific region. For the better part of three years, during which Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor languished in Chinese jails, the Canadian government had a “three monkeys” policy toward China: ”see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.” Now that the two Michaels are safely home, the government should properly define its rules of engagement with China on trade, human rights and security, but also work vigorously to strengthen its partnerships in the region, notably with Australia, India, Japan and South Korea.
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Although there was a lot of hand-wringing about why Canada was left out of AUKUS – the new security pact that was announced by the U.K., U.S. and Australia to counter China – Canada should instead focus its efforts on gaining membership in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, which is now the key strategic grouping in the region. The Quad (its members are Australia, India, Japan and the U.S.) was established in 2007 by former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Although it fell into abeyance during the tenure of former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who worried about offending Chinese sensibilities, it has returned to prominence as reflected in bimonthly meetings of senior foreign ministry officials, joint military exercises and the group’s commitment to developing achievable policies.
At its most recent meeting in March 2021, Quad leaders reaffirmed their commitment to “quadrilateral co-operation” and striving for “a region that is free, open, inclusive, healthy, anchored by democratic values and unconstrained by coercion.” Going forward, the group will focus its efforts on addressing “the global devastation wrought by COVID-19, the threat of climate change, and security challenges facing the region with renewed purpose” while also “promoting a free, open rules-based order, rooted in international law” for the Indo-Pacific region “and beyond.”
Ms. Joly has her work cut out for her if Canada is going to join this club. Some of its members, notably Australia, see us as soft on defence and too sheltered under the U.S. security umbrella to be a serious player.
Ms. Joly must also focus on the vital importance of arms control to global security. This is an area where Canada has traditionally been a major player, given our role in the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty regime and the 1992 Open Skies Treaty between the U.S. and Russia. As the U.S., China and Russia enter a new arms race to modernize their nuclear arsenals and develop new weapons such as hypersonic missiles, new anti-satellite weapons and cyberwarfare, the risks of strategic miscalculation and inadvertent escalation will only heighten because of the absence of warning times to allow decision makers to properly act. Under Ms. Joly’s leadership, Canada should vigorously push for arms control and other stabilization measures to limit, if not prevent, the deployment of these dangerous new weapons and reduce escalatory risks.
Aside from security, there is another important area that the Foreign Minister must prioritize: grand corruption. Public officials who purloin the public purse are one of the greatest threats to democracy abroad and hinder the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. A wanton culture of bribery in many countries also means there is not a level playing field abroad for international Canadian businesses. According to both the World Bank and the World Economic Forum, hundreds of billions of dollars are “lost” annually in developing countries to corruption. As billions more are poured into developing countries from the Green Climate Fund, the temptation to steal will only grow. That is why we need a new global Anti-Corruption Court to punish and deter corrupt leaders, which was in both the Liberal and Conservative platforms.
Over the past several years, a revolving door in the Global Affairs ministerial portfolio has meant that Canada has been missing in action on many key files. Ms. Joly can turn things around. But she will have to move quickly and maintain a laser-like focus on her key priorities. The temptation to succumb to virtue signalling as a substitute for real action, which has been the hallmark of Canada’s somewhat empty vessel “feminist” foreign policy in recent years, should be avoided.
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