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Wednesday / November 30

China Strategy Project

China Strategy Project


In its national history, Canada has never had to contend with a powerful China: The Opium Wars, which inaugurated China’s “century of humiliation”, began nearly three decades prior to Confederation in 1839. When paired with other global trends, the rise of China therefore presents a novel context that will affect Canada’s national interests and the wider international order in complex ways.

As relations between Ottawa and Beijing have deteriorated over recent years, Canada’s two major political parties have taken diametrically opposite approaches. The Liberal Party, while accepting the reality that an ambitious agenda for bilateral cooperation is no longer possible, has attempted to tread a difficult tight rope and not offend Beijing. By contrast, the Conservatives have adopted a much more critical line.

Major differences in foreign policy visions and priorities between Canada’s two leading parties, which are not limited to the issue of China, can lead to policy incoherence and inconsistency whenever there is a change of government. This, in turn, damages the country’s ability to secure its national interests consistently in a changing world.

While cross-partisan disagreement on China is likely to persist, this project aims to identify and explore targeted areas of potential consensus that can underpin a unified national strategy for dealing with China – one that is neither naïve nor overly alarmist. The trade-centric status quo in Canada-China relations, centred on “engagement for engagement’s sake” and insufficiently conscious of strategic considerations, appears to have run its course. However, a full swing of the pendulum into a cold war-type relationship may not be in Canada’s interests either.

The project will consist of a series of publications and roundtable discussions by top Canadian thinkers and China experts probing five key questions concerning Canada’s relationship with China:

  • What place does China occupy in Canada’s vision of a rules-based international order?
  • What do worsening relations between China and the West imply for Canada’s strategy to tackle climate change?
  • What restrictions and reductions in Canada-China trade should the Canadian government and business community be prepared to tolerate?
  • What should the current downturn in Canada-China relations and mounting security concerns imply for Canadian universities?
  • What do deteriorating relations with Beijing imply for the future of multiculturalism in Canada?

Project Director

Zachary Paikin

Zachary Paikin

Non-Resident Research Fellow, Institute Peace & Diplomacy

From This Project

Prospects of Canada-China Cooperation on Energy & Environment

The current chill of Canada’s political and diplomatic relations with China should not be a barrier for the two countries to work together in pursuing energy efficiency, climate change collaboration and especially finding innovative ways of replacing China’s coal use by other less harmful means to the environment and reducing CO2 emissions on a large scale.

Canadian Universities & China: Research Collaborations in Question

For at least forty years, universities have been a major dimension of Canadian connections with China. Recruitment of Chinese students, study abroad programs for Canadians, research partnerships and collaborative programs involve virtually every Canadian university and college with hundreds of Chinese partners. 

Multiculturalism & Canada-China Relations

Despite state multiculturalism, foreign policy making can function as an institutional conduit for reproducing systemic racism, which not only exacerbates social divisions but also prevents a form of intercultural understanding in which individuals truly see one another.

Canada’s Dilemma: China and the ‘Rules-Based International Order’

In spite of recent tensions in the Canada-China relationship, Ottawa would be wise to adopt a posture rooted in caution and restraint, cooperating with Washington on the security implications of China’s rise where necessary while keeping the door open to engagement with Beijing where possible.

China’s Economic Rise and Its Implications for Canada

One must have an informed picture of China’s global economic outreach and the current state of Canada-China economic linkages. Upon closer examination, pursuing a strategy centred on decoupling appears fanciful at best and counterproductive at worst.

Beijing’s Discursive Challenge of International Norms

For the China’s political elites, being heard and listened to constitutes a major aspect of China’s ascent to great power status. Meanwhile, the concept of democracy will remain contested although a plurality does not signify failure, but rather fulfils the quest for alternative understandings.

When It Comes to Canada-China Trade, Keep One Eye on the Americans

A strategy that begins with acceptance, as opposed to recognition, of U.S. perspectives is a strategy that a priori cedes Canadian economic interests. A strategy that starts with a strong definition and advancement of Canadian interests and that forces the Americans to react, if they notice at all, is critical given the imbalance in the Canada-U.S. relationship.

Living with China

By all means, let us compete with China, and confront it where necessary. But let us be clear-eyed about our purpose: it is not to ‘defeat’ China but to advance the cause of the planet and humanity. Going to war with China will solve none of our problems. Today’s PLA is not that of the Korean War. It can credibly challenge the US and there is no reassurance that a war with China will be limited in time or space. At the same time, no solution to the global challenge of climate change is possible without Chinese cooperation. Lose China, lose the planet.

Navigating the US-Canada-China Triangular Relationship

Canada is a participant in a rapidly evolving international economic order in which China’s economy is poised to overtake the US by the end of this decade. At the same time, America is turning inward towards self-sufficiency in order to reduce dependencies, shorten supply chains and shift its economic focus away from globalised interdependence towards domestic consumption and manufacturing. De-globalization carries significant risks for the USA and Canada.

Panel 4: Pathways to Manage Non-Proliferation in the Middle East (4:30 PM - 5:45 PM ET)

The Western powers have failed to effectively manage the increasing threat of proliferation in the Middle East. While the international community is concerned with Iran’s nuclear program, Saudi Arabia has moved forward with developing its own nuclear program, and independent studies show that Israel has longed possessed dozens of nuclear warheads. The former is a member of the treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), while the latter has refused to sign the international agreement. 

On Middle East policy, the Biden campaign had staunchly criticized the Trump administration’s unilateral withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), more commonly known as the Iran Nuclear Deal and it has begun re-engaging Iran on the nuclear dossier since assuming office in January 2021. However, serious obstacles remain for responsible actors in expanding non-proliferation efforts toward a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. 

This panel will discuss how Western powers and multilateral institutions, such as the IAEA, can play a more effective role in managing non-proliferation efforts in the Middle East.  


Peggy Mason: Canada’s former Ambassador to the UN for Disarmament

Mark Fitzpatrick: Associate Fellow & Former Executive Director, International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS)

Ali Vaez: Iran Project Director, International Crisis Group

Negar Mortazavi: Journalist and Political Analyst, Host of Iran Podcast

David Albright: Founder and President of the Institute for Science and International Security


Closing (5:45 PM – 6:00 PM ET)

Panel 3: Trade and Business Diplomacy in the Middle East (3:00 PM - 4:15 PM ET)

What is the current economic landscape in the Middle East? While global foreign direct investment is expected to fall drastically in the post-COVID era, the World Bank reported a 5% contraction in the economic output of the Middle East and North African (MENA) countries in 2020 due to the pandemic. While oil prices are expected to rebound with normalization in demand, political instability, regional and geopolitical tensions, domestic corruption, and a volatile regulatory and legal environment all threaten economic recovery in the Middle East. What is the prospect for economic growth and development in the region post-pandemic, and how could MENA nations promote sustainable growth and regional trade moving forward?

At the same time, Middle Eastern diaspora communities have become financially successful and can help promote trade between North America and the region. In this respect, the diaspora can become vital intermediaries for advancing U.S. and Canada’s business interests abroad. Promoting business diplomacy can both benefit the MENA region and be an effective and positive way to advance engagement and achieve foreign policy goals of the North Atlantic.

This panel will investigate the trade and investment opportunities in the Middle East, discuss how facilitating economic engagement with the region can benefit Canadian and American national interests, and explore relevant policy prescriptions.


Hon. Sergio Marchi: Canada’s Former Minister of International Trade

Scott Jolliffe: Chairperson, Canada Arab Business Council

Esfandyar Batmanghelidj: Founder and Publisher of Bourse & Bazaar

Nizar Ghanem: Director of Research and Co-founder at Triangle

Nicki Siamaki: Researcher at Control Risks

Panel 2: Arms Race and Terrorism in the Middle East (12:00 PM - 1:15 PM ET)

The Middle East continues to grapple with violence and instability, particularly in Yemen, Syria and Iraq. Fueled by government incompetence and foreign interventions, terrorist insurgencies have imposed severe humanitarian and economic costs on the region. Meanwhile, regional actors have engaged in an unprecedented pursuit of arms accumulation. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have imported billions of both Western and Russian-made weapons and funded militant groups across the region, intending to contain their regional adversaries, particularly Iran. Tehran has also provided sophisticated weaponry to various militia groups across the region to strengthen its geopolitical position against Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Israel. 

On the other hand, with international terrorist networks and intense regional rivalry in the Middle East, it is impractical to discuss peace and security without addressing terrorism and the arms race in the region. This panel will primarily discuss the implications of the ongoing arms race in the region and the role of Western powers and multilateral organizations in facilitating trust-building security arrangements among regional stakeholders to limit the proliferation of arms across the Middle East.



Luciano Zaccara: Assistant Professor, Qatar University

Dania Thafer: Executive Director, Gulf International Forum

Kayhan Barzegar: Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the Science and Research Branch of Azad University

Barbara Slavin: Director of Iran Initiative, Atlantic Council

Sanam Shantyaei: Senior Journalist at France24 & host of Middle East Matters

Panel 1: Future of Diplomacy and Engagement in the Middle East (10:30 AM-11:45 AM ET)

The emerging regional order in West Asia will have wide-ranging implications for global security. The Biden administration has begun re-engaging Iran on the nuclear dossier, an initiative staunchly opposed by Israel, while also taking a harder line on Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen. Meanwhile, key regional actors, including Qatar, Iraq, and Oman, have engaged in backchannel efforts to bring Iran and Saudi Arabia to the negotiating table. From a broader geopolitical perspective, with the need to secure its energy imports, China is also expected to increase its footprint in the region and influence the mentioned challenges. 

In this evolving landscape, Western powers will be compelled to redefine their strategic priorities and adjust their policies with the new realities in the region. In this panel, we will discuss how the West, including the United States and its allies, can utilize multilateral diplomacy with its adversaries to prevent military escalation in the region. Most importantly, the panel will discuss if a multilateral security dialogue in the Persian Gulf region, proposed by some regional actors, can help reduce tensions among regional foes and produce sustainable peace and development for the region. 


Abdullah Baabood: Academic Researcher and Former Director of the Centre for Gulf Studies, Qatar University

Trita Parsi: Executive Vice-President, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft

Ebtesam Al-Ketbi: President, Emirates Policy Centre​

Jon Allen: Canada’s Former Ambassador to Israel

Elizabeth Hagedorn: Washington correspondent for Al-Monitor

Panel 4: Humanitarian Diplomacy: An Underused Foreign Policy Tool in the Middle East (4:30 PM - 5:30 PM ET)

Military interventions, political and economic instabilities, and civil unrest in the Middle East have led to a global refugee crisis with an increasing wave of refugees and asylum seekers to Europe and Canada. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has, in myriad ways, exacerbated and contributed to the ongoing security threats and destabilization of the region.

While these challenges pose serious risks to Canadian security, Ottawa will also have the opportunity to limit such risks and prevent a spillover effect vis-à-vis effective humanitarian initiatives in the region. In this panel, we will primarily investigate Canada’s Middle East Strategy’s degree of success in providing humanitarian aid to the region. Secondly, the panel will discuss what programs and initiatives Canada can introduce to further build on the renewed strategy. and more specifically, how Canada can utilize its policy instruments to more effectively deal with the increasing influx of refugees from the Middle East. 



Erica Di Ruggiero: Director of Centre for Global Health, University of Toronto

Reyhana Patel: Head of Communications & Government Relations, Islamic Relief Canada

Amir Barmaki: Former Head of UN OCHA in Iran

Catherine Gribbin: Senior Legal Advisor for International and Humanitarian Law, Canadian Red Cross

Panel 3: A Review of Canada’s Middle East Engagement and Defense Strategy (3:00 PM - 4:15 PM ET)

In 2016, Canada launched an ambitious five-year “Middle East Engagement Strategy” (2016-2021), committing to investing CA$3.5 billion over five years to help establish the necessary conditions for security and stability, alleviate human suffering and enable stabilization programs in the region. In the latest development, during the meeting of the Global Coalition against ISIS, Minister of Foreign Affairs Marc Garneau announced more than $43.6 million in Peace and Stabilization Operations Program funding for 11 projects in Syria and Iraq.

With Canada’s Middle East Engagement Strategy expiring this year, it is time to examine and evaluate this massive investment in the Middle East region in the past five years. More importantly, the panel will discuss a principled and strategic roadmap for the future of Canada’s short-term and long-term engagement in the Middle East.


Ferry de Kerckhove: Canada’s Former Ambassador to Egypt

Dennis Horak: Canada’s Former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia

Chris Kilford: Former Canadian Defence Attaché in Turkey, member of the national board of the Canadian International Council (CIC)

David Dewitt: University Professor Emeritus, York University

Panel 2: The Great Power Competition in the Middle East (12:00 PM - 1:15 PM ET)

While the United States continues to pull back from certain regional conflicts, reflected by the Biden administration’s decision to halt American backing for Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen and the expected withdrawal from Afghanistan, US troops continue to be stationed across the region. Meanwhile, Russia and China have significantly maintained and even expanded their regional activities. On one hand, the Kremlin has maintained its military presence in Syria, and on the other hand, China has signed an unprecedented 25-year strategic agreement with Iran.

As the global power structure continues to shift, it is essential to analyze the future of the US regional presence under the Biden administration, explore the emerging global rivalry with Russia and China, and at last, investigate the implications of such competition for peace and security in the Middle East.


Dmitri Trenin: Director of Carnegie Moscow Center

Joost R. Hiltermann: Director of MENA Programme, International Crisis Group

Roxane Farmanfarmaian: Affiliated Lecturer in International Relations of the Middle East and North Africa, University of Cambridge

Andrew A. Michta: Dean of the College of International and Security Studies at Marshall Center

Kelley Vlahos: Senior Advisor, Quincy Institute

Panel 1: A New Middle East Security Architecture in the Making (10:30 AM -11:45 AM ET)

The security architecture of the Middle East has undergone rapid transformations in an exceptionally short period. Notable developments include the United States gradual withdrawal from the region, rapprochement between Israel and some GCC states through the Abraham Accords and the rise of Chinese and Russian regional engagement.

With these new trends in the Middle East, it is timely to investigate the security implications of the Biden administration’s Middle East policy. In this respect, we will discuss the Biden team’s new approach vis-à-vis Iran, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. The panel will also discuss the role of other major powers, including China and Russia in shaping this new security environment in the region, and how the Biden administration will respond to these powers’ increasing regional presence.



Sanam Vakil: Deputy Director of MENA Programme at Chatham House

Denise Natali: Acting Director, Institute for National Strategic Studies & Director of the Center for Strategic Research, National Defense University

Hassan Ahmadian: Professor of the Middle East and North Africa Studies, University of Tehran

Abdulaziz Sagar: Chairman, Gulf Research Center

Andrew Parasiliti: President, Al-Monitor