Chuck Chiang: Canadian presence in Asia requires more than economic interest
by Chuck Chiang (feat. Marius Grinius)
July 12, 2015
While the Canadian government has been busy developing economic ties with the Asia-Pacific Rim region, Ottawa should be doing much more to contribute to the region’s geopolitical security, a report from a Canadian foreign-policy think-tank says.
In the paper Canada and Asia: Prosperity and Security, Marius Grinius, a fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, details how Canada played a prominent role in Asian security matters in the 1990s, only to pull back dramatically since the mid-2000s.
Grinius said that in the mid-1990s (during what he calls Canada’s “Golden Age of Asia”), extensive visits made by top-level Canadian officials to Asian countries for economic promotion were combined with an participation by Canadian security experts in multilateral security discussions, including on the South China Sea. By 2000, Canadian participation was waning, Grinius said.
He noted that some experts have described a “cyclical political re-discovery of Asia” by Ottawa every decade. The revival in interest in free-trade agreements, as well as the aggressive push to encourage Canadian businesses to target markets like India and Southeast Asia, fits with the notion that Ottawa has “once again rediscovered Asia, at least in terms of commercial prospects.
But the increased economic stakes in Asia require an equivalent foreign policy — anchored by a clear defence and security strategy and objective — to ensure the protection of Canadian interests, Grinius said. That, he said, is currently missing.
“What is less clear … is Canada’s response to the security and stability challenges that Asia continues to face,” Grinius argued. “Canada has, for now, chosen to emphasize a mercantile foreign policy. Such an approach, however, must not ignore the need for a strong defence policy anchored within a vigorous foreign policy that is able to meet the challenges of the 21st century.”
There are signs that Ottawa is starting to move in that direction. Thursday, during an address at an Asia Pacific Foundation roundtable in Vancouver, Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson said Ottawa intends on playing a significant role in boosting regional security and working on areas like the India-Pakistan tensions and the island disputes in the South China Sea.
“Regional security in Asia is a big priority for us,” Nicholson said. “This means, in addition to aggressively promoting our commercial interests, we are investing our time and resources toward specific projects to help the region and the world to be more secure.”
On the India-Pakistan and South China Sea issues, Nicholson outlined specific positions his government is taking. He identified India and Southeast Asia as key partners in those disputes for “shaping a peace” to promote stability and prosperity.
“We share the concerns of all who believe that we have rules for a reason,” Nicholson said about the South China Sea situation, where China and several southeast Asian countries have disputes over the sovereignty of the Spratly and Paracel Islands, as well as the surrounding waters. “Without rules, chaos ensues. With them, we can expect the prosperity that unleashes the kind of growth that would shape the peace for generations to come.”
Nicholson also expressed strong concerns about terrorist groups that continue to operate within Pakistan, hinting at potentially working more closely with India as New Delhi and Ottawa move closer in the diplomatic sphere. The improved bilateral relations were highlighted by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Canada, including Vancouver, in April.