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Minister of Foreign Affairs Melanie Joly, front left, responds to questions as Minister of Public Safety Marco Mendocino listens during a news conference to announce Canada's Indo-Pacific strategy in Vancouver on Nov. 27.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

The good thing about Canada’s Indo-Pacific strategy is that there actually is one, an important thing for a country whose recent foreign policy has been mostly make-believe.

Given that, it can be churlish to point to the clichés that are littered through its pages, like the obvious yet neglected realization that “Canada is a Pacific country,” or the assertion that Canada is now “clear-eyed” in its approach to China, which presumably means that years were spent lumbering through a cataract-clouded fog.

Strategy, after all, is about the big picture, and Step 1 here was recognizing that there is a big picture worth thinking about in the half of the planet that is situated to the left of Vancouver – and that heck, Canada might even want to think about things it might do there.

The Indo-Pacific strategy does that. It has flaws, but more importantly, it has some sense of direction.

The dirty little secret about Canada’s foreign policy is that Canada doesn’t really have one. It has alliances and agreements and relationships and lots of rhetoric, but not something you can call foreign policy, written or otherwise. Having a regional policy is a step forward.

In fact, the Indo-Pacific strategy’s biggest weakness is its strength, in that the strategy’s existence highlights the things that it lacks.

The document tells us the rise of the Indo-Pacific is a “once-in-a-generation” shift that requires a “generational Canadian response,” including a bigger naval presence. But in practice, that means sailing a third frigate in a region that includes most of the world’s blue water for four to six months a year. The generational response demanded by the strategy’s rhetoric has to include a bigger navy.

A key driver is China, and recognizing the conundrum that, although dealing with China is both economically necessary and unavoidable when it comes to global issues like climate change, Beijing is also a threat to our national security.

That is just catching up to what our allies realized four or five years ago, in the eyes of Eugene Lang, assistant professor in the Queen’s University school of policy, who was chief of staff to two Liberal defence ministers in previous governments. But he added that there is a point in recognizing that in public and sending a signal to allies and adversaries.

The strategy includes broader analysis, not always groundbreaking but often substantive. “It pulled some punches, but it delivered some as well,” said Jonathan Berkshire Miller, director of the Indo-Pacific program at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.

He noted the strategy refers to working with partners to “push back” on “unilateral actions” in the Taiwan Strait – which means Beijing’s bullying efforts aimed at eventually regaining it – and also talks about granular points like countering disinformation in Taiwan.

The strategy talks about resourcing the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and Canada’s electronic-intelligence agency, the Communications Security Establishment, for efforts to combat foreign interference. It also outlines a $47-million commitment to help Indo-Pacific countries build cybersecurity capacity.

There is also a renewed call for focus on trade in Asia, notably in Southeast Asia. There is a promise to appoint a special envoy for the Indo-Pacific region. There are lots of proposals, and some of them are reasonably concrete. “It is meatier than I expected,” Mr. Miller said.

There are platitudes, too, including the kind of stuff Canada has been impotently repeating about India for decades. It calls India the world’s biggest democracy, with a shared tradition of democracy and pluralism, and so on, and expresses the desire to hitch Canada’s wagon to India’s growing economy, but forgets that India has shown it doesn’t much care.

Yet for the most part, the Indo-Pacific strategy does a big, unusual thing for Canada. It lays out a strategy. If Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government and whatever government comes next actually follow through, then we might really have something.

The defence and security side of it is, as Mr. Lang noted, “minimalist.” One more frigate sailing in the region half the year is just a touch more than symbolic. The government claims a coming defence policy review will provide more resources. Perhaps if Canada had an Indo-Pacific strategy a generation ago, it might have implied Canada would need the ships we don’t have now.

What the country does have in the Indo-Pacific strategy is a partial first step. But a piece of a foreign policy is better than nothing.

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