Canada unveils Indo-Pacific strategy aiming to grow trade and counter China

Vancouver — Canada has revealed an Indo-Pacific strategy aiming in part to counter a growingly hostile China and build economic ties in the region.

Global Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly unveiled the strategy in Vancouver Sunday morning. It includes plans to combat foreign interference by China in Canada’s domestic affairs.

“China’s rise as a global actor is reshaping the strategic outlook of every state in the region, including Canada,” reads the document. “China has benefitted from the rules-based international order to grow and prosper, but it is now actively seeking to reinterpret these rules to gain greater advantage.”

The Indo-Pacific, the strategy says, is a 40-nation region of the world containing six of Canada’s top trading partners.

It says the region offers a $2.1 trillion opportunity for investments and partnerships. An initial investment from Ottawa of $2.3 billion over the next five years will kick off the plan. Nearly $500 million of the funding will go toward increasing Canada’s naval presence in the region and another $47 million to help develop cybersecurity capacity.

“It is about positioning Canada to be a reliable partner,” Joly said at a Vancouver media conference. “It is an ambitious plan for the next decade.”

The plan includes the creation of new trade offices and positions meant to facilitate trade in the Indo-Pacific region, particularly with India.

It also includes a blue print to guard against foreign interference in Canada, saying new provisions to the Investment Canada Act are meant to protect national interests. But it makes no commitment to creating a foreign agents registry, such as those kept by Australia and the United States.

Those registries require people acting on behalf of foreign nations to influence government to log their activities. Some critic have been calling for Canada to adopt a similar registry.

At the same time Ottawa will continue to pursue relations with Beijing, it reads.

As China’s relations with many western nations continues to decline amid hostility from Beijing and while internally the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) steps up efforts to oppress dissent, the idea of an Indo-Pacific strategy has gained momentum.

Many see a pivot to the Indo-Pacific as a way to contain China while diversifying trade.

The deteriorating relations between Ottawa and Beijing went into hyperdrive with the 2018 arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou as she transited through Vancouver.

Meng’s extradition proceedings dragged on until she finally signed a deferred prosecution agreement with U.S. authorities, who had asked Canada to arrest her on fraud charges. In her agreement she admitted to wrongdoing.

China arrested two Canadians in retaliation who were freed the same day as Meng but the damage done to relations has continued with some polls showing close to 90 per cent of Canadians have an unfavourable view of China.

Canada has been working on an Indo-Pacific strategy since at least 2020, possibly as early as 2019, apparently opting to deepen ties with other nations.

But the government was initially tight-lipped about the strategy’s progress. Previously Ottawa has said the Indo-Pacific strategy would compliment the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Joly told reporters Canada now has a “transparent” plan for dealing with Beijing. She pointed out China was, for the first time, highlighted as an issue for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

“When it comes to China, we have a clear framework when it comes to dealing with the government of China,” Joly said. “We will engage in diplomacy … at the same time we’ll be firm.”

Margaret McCuaig-Johnston is a senior fellow at the University of Ottawa and a member of the Canada U.S. Commission on China who has long advocated for an Indo-Pacific strategy.

Speaking Sunday McCuaig-Johnston praised the plan, going as far as to say it could be a framework for other nations. She said the plan is a recognition from Ottawa that China has changed.

“I think for many years the Trudeau government was clinging to the old vision they had of China when trade was going well,” she said.

Ottawa was first criticized for being slow to develop a strategy and then, when details of the initial draft were leaked to media earlier this year, for apparently making little mention of China.

But Canada appeared to harden its stance earlier this month when Joly warned Canadian businesses against deepening their ties with China.

McCuaig-Johnston said the funding commitments laid out in the strategy give her faith the government is going to follow through with the plans.

“I think they turned a corner and they believe what they’ve been saying publicly since October,” she said. “This is a new China we’re seeing.”

U.S. ambassador to Canada David L. Cohen issued a statement supporting the strategy.

“Today, we welcome Canada’s announcement of its Indo-Pacific Strategy and look forward to continued engagement with Canada, one of the United States’s most important friends and allies, to advance our countries’ shared priorities in the Indo-Pacific region,” Cohen’s statement said.

Meanwhile, Goldy Hyder, president of the Business Council of Canada, issued a release Sunday calling the new plan “useful.”

“Canada’s business leaders have been calling for a comprehensive Indo-Pacific Strategy for several years,” Hyder said. “Now that the government has done so, it’s important to convert aspirations to actions and actions into accomplishments.”

But Hyder said he wanted to see an “express commitment” from the government to provide liquefied natural gas to Canada’s allies in the region. He said Ottawa needs to work on similar plans with other regions, such as the Americas.

Perrin Beatty, president and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, also issued a statement praising the plan on Sunday.

“The single largest immediate contribution Canada can make to the Indo-Pacific is to develop a comprehensive strategy to export far greater quantities of food, fuel and fertilizer to the region,” Beatty’s statement said. “We welcome the opening of the first Agriculture and Agri-food Office in the region as a first step and encourage the government to announce an export strategy to get these key commodities to market.”

Jeremy Nuttall is a Vancouver-based investigative reporter for the Star.


Conversations are opinions of our readers and are subject to the Code of Conduct. The Star does not endorse these opinions.
File source

Show More
Back to top button