Ottawa’s long-awaited Indo-Pacific strategy will call out China as an increasingly disruptive global power, in a reversal of the government’s previous policy of avoiding confrontation with the world’s second-largest economy.
Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly will outline the broad themes of the government’s new strategy in a major speech to be delivered in Toronto on Wednesday to the Asia Pacific Foundation and the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. An advance copy of the speech was provided exclusively to The Globe and Mail.
In the text, Ms. Joly says Canada must continue to trade with an autocratic and increasingly assertive China because of the sheer size of its economy. But, she says, Ottawa needs to be vigilant about the risks of deepening ties to a country that flouts basic human rights, ignores trade and investment rules and does not share Canadian values.
The speech sets out a road map for Canada to diversify its trade and deepen relations with India and other nations in the region.
This is a significant change from the government’s previous approach to China. In the past, Ottawa has been reluctant to criticize Beijing, in the interest of promoting economic and trade ties.
“China’s rise as a global actor is reshaping the strategic outlook of every state in the region, including Canada,” Ms. Joly says in the speech.
“It seeks to shape the global environment into one that is more permissive to interests and values that increasingly depart from ours.”
She adds: “The China of 1970 is not the China of today. China is an increasingly disruptive global power.”
The government has been quietly formulating its Indo-Pacific strategy since 2020. An early version drafted by Global Affairs bureaucrats this past summer made no mention of China. But Ms. Joly overruled her department and took a hands-on role in writing the strategy, according to a source with direct knowledge. The Globe and Mail is not naming the source because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
“Our approach to China will be outlined in the strategy. For we can’t have an Indo-Pacific strategy without it,” Ms. Joly says in her speech.
She also says Ottawa will be vocal about China’s brutal treatment of Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in the Xinjiang region, “where credible accounts of human rights abuses and crimes against humanity are well-documented.”
Canada will also continue to speak out about the crushing of free speech and the media in Hong Kong, oppose the escalation of Chinese military action against Taiwan and seek to “deepen our economic ties” with the self-governing island, the speech says. The notion of Canada pursuing stronger economic relations with Taipei is bound to be denounced by Beijing, which considers Taiwan to be part of China.
At the same time, the speech says, Canada will co-operate with China on fighting climate change. It notes that the government is playing host in Montreal next month to the UN Biodiversity Conference, which is under a Chinese presidency.
Ms. Joly’s speech says Canada will be adding analysts in foreign missions to help Ottawa get a better read on China.
“Key embassies across our network will have dedicated experts to deepen our understanding of the challenges that China poses, and the opportunities that it presents,” Ms. Joly says.
She also warns Canadian companies that they do business in China at their own risk.
“What I would like to say to Canadians doing business in and with China: you need to be clear-eyed,” the minister says. “The decisions you take are your own. I will always respect your independence.”
Earlier this month, Ottawa began cracking down on Chinese investment in Canada’s critical minerals sector, ordering three of China’s state-controlled companies to sell their stakes in Canadian lithium miners.
Innovation Minster François-Philippe Champagne cited national security and the need to protect supply chains when he announced the order. He is one of two senior ministers who have said Canada should reduce trade with Beijing and other authoritarian states.
Mr. Champagne told a Washington audience in October that Canada wants “a decoupling, certainly from China, and I would say other regimes in the world which don’t share the same values.”
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, also in October, said Canada should embrace “friend-shoring” by ending dependency on authoritarian states such as China for vital products and standing up for fellow democracies being bullied by Beijing.
In her speech, Ms. Joly notes that the Indo-Pacific region, which stretches from North America to India’s west coast, is home to 60 per cent of the world’s population, and it accounts for 60 per cent of global gross domestic product. About 60 per cent of world maritime trade passes through its oceans, a third of that through the South China Sea, where Beijing has made sweeping territorial claims.
“To put it plainly: the decisions made in the region will impact Canadians’ lives for generations,” she says.
Canadian businesses are being urged to focus on the Asian powerhouses of Japan and South Korea, as well as Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Cambodia. Ms. Joly’s speech stresses the importance of India, whose economy is expected to grow from $2.5-trillion annually to $5-trillion over the next decade.
“As India becomes the most populous country in the world, its leadership and influence will only continue to grow,” Ms. Joly says. “India is looking to expand its commercial relationships in energy, agrifood and technology industries – all areas of Canadian strength.”
The Indo-Pacific policy document is expected to be unveiled during Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ms. Joly’s trips later this month to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Cambodia, the G20 summit in Indonesia and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) economic leaders’ meeting in Thailand.
After the 2018 arrest of Meng Wanzhou, a senior executive at the Chinese tech company Huawei, China jailed Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig. The episode, which was resolved after the United States dropped an extradition request for Ms. Meng and China released Mr. Spavor and Mr. Kovrig, drove Ottawa-Beijing relations to their worst point since after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.
Many of Canada’s major allies, including other Group of Seven countries, have already formulated their own Indo-Pacific strategies. The U.S. policy says China is using all of its economic, military, technological and diplomatic might to become the dominant player in the region.
The idea of the “Indo-Pacific” is a strategic shift, first championed by Japan and embraced by Australia and the U.S. The purpose of the concept is to build common cause between India and neighbours that have burgeoning middle-class populations and a shared interest in addressing China’s growing influence in the region, and who also fear Beijing’s militarization of the South China Sea and other ocean trade routes.