Canada’s Foreign Minister, Melanie Joly released the North American country’s vision for the Indo-Pacific on November 27, 2022. Canada’s Indo Pacific strategy is 26 pages in length, and it has earmarked Canadian $ 2.6 billion (US $ 1.9 billion) for funding in the Indo-Pacific region. Through the strategy, Canada seeks to play its role of promoting peace and security in the Indo Pacific region by; investing in security and intelligence networks and cybersecurity infrastructure in the Indo Pacific, strengthening Canada’s trade with the region, building natural resource linkages between Canada and Indo-Pacific countries and to strengthen people to people links between Canadian citizens and those of Indo-Pacific countries.
The Canadian Foreign Minister, while unveiling the strategy highlighted the economic importance of the Indo-Pacific region while also stating that:
“Every issue that matters to Canadians, our national security, our economic prosperity, democratic values, climate change or again human rights will be shaped by the relationship Canada has with Indo-Pacific countries.”
The strategy lays immense emphasis on enhancing trade ties with India, East Asia and Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries. To achieve the objective of greater trade with the region, Canada will appoint an Indo-Pacific trade representative (the vision also seeks to set up Canada’s first agricultural office in the region with the aim of increasing agricultural exports to the region). In comparison to the vision of other western countries and Australia, there is a strong thrust in Canada’s Indo Pacific strategy on giving a boost to people-to-people linkages with the region. It would be pertinent to point out, that Canada is home to not just a large Indian expat community, but that Indian nationals account for the largest group within the international community (this point has been flagged in Canada’s Indo-Pacific strategy as well)
While Canada’s Indo-Pacific strategy cannot be linked to any one factor, but there is no doubt, that one of the key factors for Canada to focus on the Indo-Pacific is to reduce economic dependence upon China, and also find common ground with other countries becoming increasingly vary of Chinese expansionism. The 26page document released by Canada dubbed China a ‘disruptive power’, while also arguing that China seeks to ‘disregard’ norms and values by which it has risen. Says the strategy:
“China is looking to shape the international order into a more permissive environment for interests and values that increasingly depart from ours.”
In recent years, like many other western countries, Canada’s ties with China have gone downhill. Tensions began to emerge after Canadian police detained Meng Wanzhou Chief Financial officer of Huawei in 2018, while China retaliated by arresting two Canadian nationals of spying (all three individuals were released last year). In 2020, Canada had also shelved its trade deal with China. Then Canadian Foreign Minister, Francois-Philippe Champagne while commenting on differences with China had said:
“I do not see the conditions being present now for these discussions to continue at this time. The China of 2020 is not the China of 2016”.
Recently, Ottawa has also accused China of interfering in the domestic politics of Canada. Canada accuses China of providing financial support to 11 candidates in the North American nation’s federal elections of 2019. Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau had raised this issue with Xi Jinping during his meeting with the latter on the sidelines of the G20 Summit at Bali last month. Chinese President Xi Jinping had expressed his displeasure with Trudeau of leaking details of the meeting to the media.
Canada’s Indo Pacific strategy also seeks to prevent Chinese investments in areas linked to ‘national security’. The 26 page document stated that Canada would come up with legislation which would enable it to act:
‘decisively when investments from state-owned enterprises and other foreign entities threaten our national security including our critical mineral supply chains’
Canada had recently asked three Chinese companies to divest from the country’s mining companies citing security reasons.
The Canadian Foreign Minister, Melanie Joly said that while the strategy sought to safeguard Canada’s interest it was pragmatic. The strategy does refer to the need for cooperation with China on issues such as climate change, global health and nuclear proliferation. In conclusion, Canada’s Indo Pacific strategy while focusing on economics, has a clear security component. Canada like the US, UK and Australia recognizes the need to reduce economic dependence upon China, and to keep a close watch on Beijing’s interference in Canada’s domestic affairs. The meeting between US President, Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping on the side-lines of the G20 Summit as well as Canada’s Indo-Pacific strategy do reiterate, that in spite of all the differences with China, western countries will seek to avoid the emergence of a ‘new cold war’ with China and to engage on issues such as climate change.