When Canada unveiled its new Indo-Pacific Strategy late last year, one might have thought it had been written for Japan. Not only does it use a term popularized by the late Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe as its title, much of the text builds on existing agreements between Ottawa and Tokyo.
A month later, Japan published its own updated National Security Strategy, one of three documents laying out a new defence plan that will see Tokyo greatly increase military spending and expand its counterstrike capabilities. Canada is identified as a key partner in building a network of countries to strengthen deterrence and maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific region through greater security co-operation.
A separate defence strategy also identifies Canada, along with New Zealand, as a country Japan wants to further collaborate with.
Last year, Tokyo and Ottawa agreed to work toward an intelligence-sharing pact; according to Japanese and Canadian sources, a first round of negotiations is expected to begin soon, possibly ahead of the G7 summit in Hiroshima, Japan, in May.
The Globe and Mail is not identifying these sources as they were not authorized to speak publicly.
A senior Japanese Foreign Affairs Ministry official described the pact as a priority, saying it will enable the building of greater security and defence co-operation, as called for in a 2019 agreement signed by Mr. Abe and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Writing last month, Japan’s consul-general to Toronto, Takuya Sasayama, said, “continued co-operation is more important than ever in maintaining and strengthening our rules-based international order.”
“This is the year to double down on this vital partnership, and concrete developments toward this end are already taking place.”
In Tokyo, multiple officials told The Globe that they were heartened to see Canada’s new focus on the Indo-Pacific and, if anything, encouraged Ottawa to speed up its pivot toward the region.
The Foreign Affairs official said Canada had been seen in the past as more of an Atlantic country and praised Ottawa for putting more and more diplomatic resources into the Indo-Pacific.
In particular, they said, Canada and Japan have a lot in common when it comes to China. Ottawa’s Indo-Pacific Strategy identifies Beijing as an “increasingly disruptive global power,” while Japan’s defence plan is seen by many as preparing for a potential conflict over Taiwan, the self-ruled island that China claims as part of its territory.
Japanese defence officials who spoke on background with The Globe said engaging with like-minded countries such as Canada is a key part of their new security strategy, particularly when it comes to maritime security and avoiding escalation in the Taiwan Strait. During a visit by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to Ottawa in October, he and Mr. Trudeau identified China’s growing economic and military belligerence as one of the “central challenges” in the Indo-Pacific region.
“We agreed that we would strongly oppose unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force in the East China Sea and the South China Sea,” Mr. Kishida said.
Canada is also increasingly important to Japan on the economic front. During his visit, Mr. Kishida said Tokyo hoped to acquire more Canadian natural gas and critical ores for electric vehicles and other high-tech manufacturing products as Japan transitions to green energy.
Mitsubishi, a Japanese conglomerate, is a major investor in a liquefied natural gas export terminal in Kitimat, B.C., slated to be completed in 2025. That could replace 9 per cent of the natural gas Japan currently imports from Russia.
The Foreign Affairs official said there was some frustration in Tokyo over the lack of tangible steps on the LNG front. Many other Japanese companies are eager to invest in Canada, but red tape and a lack of infrastructure for transporting things such as critical minerals to the coast pose challenges, the official said.
During Mr. Kishida’s visit, Canada and Japan also announced that a Japanese trade mission will visit this spring “seeking new partners and investment opportunities.” The federal government also said it plans a trade mission to Japan in October.
Japan and Canada are the two largest economies in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, which emerged from the ruins of the U.S.-led trade deal scuppered by the Trump administration. Ottawa is also pushing to join the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF), another grouping of Asian and Pacific countries put forward by U.S. President Joe Biden.
Canadian Trade Minister Mary Ng has said Canada’s bid to join the IPEF has the support of all members, but the Japanese Foreign Affairs official was more guarded, saying Tokyo welcomes Canada’s membership but other Asian countries are not so enthusiastic.
Tokyo’s strong position on the war in Ukraine was a gratifying surprise for many allies – and stood in stark contrast to the neutrality of India, another major Western partner in the Indo-Pacific. The G7 meeting in Hiroshima will be Japan’s opportunity to lead on this issue, particularly in terms of connecting the G7 with the G20, where so-called Global South countries have a bigger sway.
“After one year of the war in Ukraine, the G7 has found we have more friends than we thought, but our voice is not global,” said Ken Jimbo, a security expert at Tokyo’s Keio University. “There should be deeper collaboration between the G7 and the G20.”
While Japan has its own colonial legacy in East Asia, Mr. Jimbo said Tokyo may have more sway in Africa and the Middle East, where it has less historical baggage than other G7 members and has long been a key provider of development aid.
A senior Canadian diplomat said this was a top priority for the Kishida government. The majority of countries in the world are not supporting sanctions on Russia, the diplomat pointed out, something Japan wants to ensure would not be the case if China were to invade Taiwan and throw the Indo-Pacific into conflict.
Even in its immediate neighbourhood, Tokyo has made progress, ending a dispute with South Korea over victims of wartime forced labour and improving ties with Seoul.
With reports from Robert Fife and Steven Chase in Ottawa
James Griffiths visited Japan in March on a Foreign Press Center Japan fellowship. FPCJ did not review or approve this content.