VANCOUVER-Canada has lagged behind other countries in developing an Indo-Pacific strategy to counter China’s influence, diversify trade and strengthen democratic values in the region, experts say.
Stephen Nagy, a researcher at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said that while Ottawa is working on an Indo-Pacific vision, progress has been slow and Canada risks being left out of decisions that shape the region.
“I do not think they have been as in line with the dynamics as they could have been,” Nagy said. “We seem to be late for dinner. We have not clearly identified our national interests in the region. ”
The Indo-Pacific Strategy refers to an overall strategy for countries to promote economic, security and political interests in the region, which stretches from the Pacific to the western Indian Ocean.
It has been talked about more internationally as tensions with China and neighboring countries has increased in recent years and for economic reasons.
Many nations have begun to develop Indo-Pacific strategies to safeguard their own interests and diversify their trade and influence in the region.
Nagy said that India in particular is a critical partner in balancing the world’s relations with China. Other countries, such as Vietnam and the Philippines, have supported.
But Canada has slipped behind, he said.
Almost two years ago Ottawa started a unit under Global Affairs Canada that aims to develop an Indo-Pacific strategy, but little about its development is known.
The Star asked Global Affairs Canada for an update on the team’s progress.
Department spokeswoman Lama Khodr said Canada was working on a “new integrated strategy” for the Indo-Pacific region to “deepen” relations with countries in the region.
“The department is committed to collaborating in regional forums in the Indo-Pacific on economic and public health that are inclusive and sustainable. at the same time as it implements the feminist international assistance policy in a context after covid “, Khodr wrote in an email.
She said part of the approach will be to work with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its Member States on trade and investment, the environment, security and other issues.
However, the response did not mention any specific action that Ottawa is taking or whether an overall strategy will be published. It just said that the new approach continues to evolve.
Trade between Canada and India has grown in recent years to reach more than $ 10 billion between the two nations in 2019, according to figures from the Indian Consulate on Toronto’s website. About $ 3.4 billion of trade takes place between Ontario and India.
At the same time, GAC figures show that trade between Canada and Japan, another leading Indo-Pacific player, reached $ 26 billion by 2020.
Nagy points out the reason why Ottawa’s vision for the Indo-Pacific has not been detailed is that the government is still working on a new China policy. A solid China strategy should be within the framework of an Indo-Pacific strategy, he said.
“You are building strong partners and relationships within the region and you are approaching China from a strength,” he said. “It’s really important.”
Nagy said that Ottawa is also waiting to see more details about US President Joe Biden’s vision for his country’s attitude to the region.
In November 2019, the Trump administration released the document Free and Open Indo-Pacific focusing on economics, governance and security.
Last month, Foreign Minister Antony Blinken told ASEAN foreign ministers that the United States will release further details on its Indo-Pacific strategy under Biden in the coming months.
The European Union announced its plans in September, including plans to seek more trade relations with Taiwan.
The US strategy is unlikely to differ much from that presented during the Trump administration, says Josh Kurlantzick, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in the United States.
“I suspect that the national security strategy will focus intensively on a wide range of ways that the United States and partner countries hope to counter China,” Kurlantzick said, adding that it will likely be a more tailored strategy than the Trump administration.
Countries that are likely to be involved include Singapore, Vietnam and, to a lesser extent, the Philippines and Thailand, he said.
Jonathan Berkshire Miller, director of the Indo-Pacific Program at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute in Ottawa, said some opponents have tried to paint Indo-Pacific strategies as a tactic developed by the Trump administration. But Japan has actually gone before.
“My counter has always been that kind of ridiculous argument,” said Berkshire Miller, noting that many countries have been active on the issue. “Indo-Pacific is more than the United States says” was angry at China. “
Canada’s political decision-makers must realize how many countries want to cooperate in the Indo-Pacific because of problems with China and act accordingly, he said.
Berkshire Miller said Ottawa must ignore stories that suggest Canada only had a bad episode with China over the arrest of Meng Wanzhou at the request of US authorities and revenge arrests by Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.
“You’re already starting to see these stories now,” he said. “The reality is that the structural problems with the relationship with China, which are not unique to Canada, have been there before. We basically slept on this for a long time. ”
Relations between Canada and China cannot return to normal, he says, making an Indo-Pacific strategy more important. It is a better strategy to place China in a broader Indo-Pacific agreement than to give it as much attention and power as a single nation, he said.
With files from the Associated Press
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