Once again, governments of the Indo-Pacific region have agreed to co-operate with each other to contain China’s influence. Once again, Canada has been left out of the agreement. Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government is responsible. He must fix this.
During a visit to Japan this week, U.S. President Joe Biden announced the launch of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity, or IPEF, a consortium of 13 developed and developing countries encompassing 40 per cent of the world’s GDP.
The goals of the agreement are ill-defined, and constrained by the unwillingness of the U.S. Congress to ratify any new trade treaties. But Canada’s foreign policy has long committed to engaging in multilateral forums. IPEF is a new multilateral forum and Canada is not engaged.
When asked why Canada wasn’t part of IPEF, Mr. Trudeau said the U.S. was simply trying to make up for withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership that Canada had negotiated with 10 other Asia-Pacific countries several years earlier.
But nations such as Japan, Australia and Malaysia are in both the TPP and IPEF. And IPEF is not the only new grouping from which Canada has been excluded.
The United States, India, Japan and Australia have formed Quad, a joint security partnership. And then there is AUKUS, a security pact that includes the U.S., Britain and Australia. Canada was left out of both.
“There is a sense by close partners that the current government is unfocused on the Indo-Pacific,” said Stephen Nagy, a professor in the department of politics and international studies at International Christian University in Tokyo and a fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.
The Trudeau government, he said, is seen by its partners as “overly focused on progressive policies at home and abroad and in some cases unreliable.”
Japan, Australia and other countries still haven’t forgiven Mr. Trudeau for almost wrecking the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement in 2017 with last-minute demands. Mr. Trudeau’s debacle-strewn visit to India in 2018 seriously diminished the Prime Minister’s reputation there.
The much-promised, still-not-delivered Indo-Pacific policy review from Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly testifies to this government’s internal incoherence on Indo-Pacific trade and security.
“There is no reason for them to have taken as long as they have,” said Shuvaloy Majumdar, director of the foreign policy program at Macdonald-Laurier Institute, a think tank. While the United States and other countries wait for Canada to say something coherent about its Indo-Pacific strategy, they have simply frozen us out of discussions.
“I think Washington is concerned about where Canada’s direction is, and is waiting to see what its decisions are,” said Mr. Majumdar.
Canada’s allies and partners all face the same conundrum: containing China’s influence, while still doing business with the world’s second-largest economy.
Other countries have developed strategies to contain and co-operate with China. Canada has not. This country only announced a ban on the use of equipment from Chinese firm Huawei in 5G technology last week, years after our allies made the same decision.
And while the crisis in Ukraine is clearly this country’s most pressing security concern right now, unless Canada commits substantial resources to Indo-Pacific security, nothing we say or do in the region will be taken seriously.
The Trudeau government has made significant progress toward a trade agreement with the members of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), which Dan Ciuriak, a fellow at the C.D. Howe Institute, considers more significant than what he calls “wet noodle” accords such as IPEF.
“The talks toward a Canada-ASEAN free-trade agreement, and the parallel talks with Indonesia, are far more important and would bring real benefits to Canada,” he said. “There is a lot of enthusiasm for this agreement both within governments and the business community.”
And the foreign policy review, if and when it is released, could give Mr. Trudeau an opportunity for a reset with Indo-Pacific nations.
“That means Prime Minister Trudeau visiting the region and articulating Canada’s sustainable commitment to the region,” says Prof. Nagy.
A serious commitment to an Indo-Pacific trade and security strategy would signal to other countries that Canada is back – this time, for real.
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