Canada has unveiled its Indo-Pacific strategy that will commit $2.3-billion over five years to expand military, security, trade and diplomatic ties with other nations in the region, in a new approach to China that sees Beijing as more adversary than friend.
The 26-page document outlining the new trade and security policy contains blunt language about China, describing it as “an increasingly disruptive global power.”
The document states that “China’s assertive pursuit of its economic and security interests, advancement of unilateral claims, foreign interference and increasingly coercive treatment of other countries and economies have significant implications in the region, in Canada and around the world.”
“Our approach to China is shaped by a realistic and clear-eyed assessment of today’s China.”
Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly, in announcing the strategy at a press conference in Vancouver on Sunday, said Canada needed to be a “true and reliable partner” in the region. “The future of the Indo-Pacific is our future, and we have a role to play in shaping it.”
The federal government’s plan includes almost $500-million in increased defence commitments, which will include deploying an additional frigate to the region.
Ottawa will work with its allies “to push back against any unilateral actions that threaten the status quo in the Taiwan Strait, as well as the East and South China Seas,” the strategy document states.
Still, the document added that Canada would continue to work co-operatively with China in efforts to combat global warming and protect public health, while also seeking to expand economic relations.
The Indo-Pacific strategy, more than three years in development, was met with mixed reviews among China experts.
“It’s been worth the wait,” said Margaret McCuaig-Johnston, a former senior public servant with extensive experience in Canada-China relations.
“And frankly, we have Xi Jinping to thank for it,” Ms. McCuaig-Johnston said. The Chinese President’s bullying approach to its neighbours and toward Canada has caused them to band together “to find ways to deal with this more aggressive power.”
But David Mulroney, former ambassador to China from 2009 to 2012, called the announcement “underwhelming,” and said it felt as if Canada was catching up to a posture that its allies have already implemented toward Beijing.
“The announcements didn’t really show us a lot of substance, something like a registry into foreign agents or an admission that the Prime Minister is finally going to heed CSIS’s warning and take concrete action against interference in Canada,” said Mr. Mulroney.
He applauded the government’s plan to strengthen its military position by sending a frigate to the region, but said he wasn’t sure that the amount of money committed would be sufficient for the deployment.
Ottawa will provide nearly $230-million to expand the capacity of Canadian intelligence and cybersecurity agencies to work closely with partners in the Indo-Pacific region and also to protect “Canadians from attempts by foreign states to influence them covertly or coercively,”
A CSIS official recently told Parliament that China is the “foremost aggressor” when it comes to foreign interference in Western countries. At the recent G20 summit in Indonesia, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told President Xi Jinping of serious concerns about his country’s “interference” in Canada. Mr. Xi later berated the Prime Minister for releasing what he considered to be a private conversation.
Until a few years ago, Canada’s main priority for the world’s second-largest economy was to increase trade. But China’s increasingly aggressive approach to its neighbours and toward the United States and Canada, and the mistreatment of its own Uyghur minority, have increased tensions. In addition, China jailed Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig after Canada detained Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.
Earlier this year, Canada belatedly joined the United States and other allied countries by banning Huawei technology from being used in this country’s next-generation wireless networks, citing risks to national security.
As part of the Indo-Pacific strategy, Ottawa wants to improve trading relationships with India, Indonesia, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and other regional powers and associations in an effort to diversity international trade and investment interests.
A little more than $240-million will be devoted to this endeavour and includes an initiative called the Canadian Trade Gateway in Southeast Asia, which will seek to identify and develop economic linkages. There are also plans for several large Team Canada trade missions. And the government will increase its diplomatic presence in the region.
Guy Saint-Jacques, Canada’s ambassador to China from 2012 to 2016, said the commitment of $750-million in infrastructure development announced Sunday as part of the strategy will give other nations in the region an alternative to the Chinese government’s massive infrastructure investments.
“In terms of resources, this sends the right message that Canada is committed,” said Mr. Saint-Jacques.
Other funds will be dedicated to improving Canada’s delay-plagued visa-processing capability, to improving the quality of the marine environment and to promoting human rights, especially the rights of women.
Mr. Saint-Jacques said he would like to see more concrete details around Canada’s strategy toward Taiwan, such as whether the government will consider sending the federal Trade Minister there.
“The rhetoric is good but we’ll have to have more detail, and of course this is something China will be watching very closely,” said Mr. Saint-Jacques.
Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong said he wanted to further analyze the new strategy before offering commentary. But “in some ways, we are on the outside looking in,” he said. The Liberal government has taken so long to develop an Indo-Pacific strategy, he said, that it has been frozen out of regional defence coalitions aimed at containing China.
U. S. Ambassador David Cohen said in a statement Sunday that the United States welcomed the release of the strategy and looked forward to working with Canada “to advance our countries’ shared priorities in the Indo-Pacific region.”