Image credit: Mary Ng
The following excerpt is from IPD’s biweekly Canadian Foreign Policy Bulletin. Read more by subscribing below.
Joly unveils Canada’s long-awaited Indo-Pacific strategy
In a Vancouver press conference alongside trade minister Mary Ng, international development minister Harjit Sajjan, public safety minister Marco Mendicino, and fisheries minister Joyce Murray, foreign affairs minister Mélanie Joly announced Canada’s “generational” strategy for the Indo-Pacific.
Five pillars — The lengthy plan outlines ‘interconnected strategic objectives’ that frame engagement over the next decade:
- These include peace and security, trade and supply chain resiliency, people-to-people ties, green and sustainable development, and a more proactive diplomatic profile and footprint in the region.
- In a backgrounder on the strategy’s financial commitments, Ottawa promised $2.3 billion in largely new financing to fund the plan’s initiatives until 2027, when a review will “return with an update that will cover initiatives and resources for years 2027-2032.”
- The most significant line items in the strategy’s budget include $492.9 million for the Canadian Armed Forces’ presence in the region as well as $750 million for FinDev Canada to support “high-quality” infrastructure in line with the G7 Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment.
- On economic engagement, the strategy placed an emphasis on opening Southeast Asian markets, diversifying supply chains, achieving an Early Progress Trade Agreement with India as a “critical partner,” and reinvigorating “Team Canada” trade missions deployed to the region.
- Diplomatically, the plan committed to appoint a special envoy to the Indo-Pacific, establish a new post to liaise with the U.S. in Hawaii, implement the Strategic Partnership with ASEAN, and add China analysts to missions at the UN, EU, and NATO.
A sharper China policy — Reportedly unmentioned in past drafts, the final document settles on labelling Bejing a “disruptive global power”:
- Critiquing China for seeking “a more permissive environment for interests and values that increasingly depart from ours,” the strategy highlighted the South China Sea, coercion, and more, vowing to “work closely with its partners to face the complex realities of China’s global impact.”
- The plan noted Canada “must remain in dialogue with those with whom we do not see eye-to-eye,” spelling out climate change and nuclear proliferation as collective concerns while recognizing that “China’s economy offers significant opportunities for Canadian exporters.”
- Interviewed by La Presse, Joly said that “most of the Indo-Pacific strategies of our allies do not include China,” saying she “decided to do so in the strategy, because you can’t talk about the Indo-Pacific without talking about China.”
- She added that she has spoken of Canada’s “re-engagement framework” with Beijing in her meetings with Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, stating “he doesn’t necessarily agree, but I told him that at least it’s transparent.”
Ministers defend plans — Cabinet members have taken to the media circuit to elaborate on the announced initiatives, tone, and timelines:
- Joly underlined one orientation of the strategy to CBC, saying “we’re introducing this new concept which is the Northern Pacific” that is about “creating a stronger relationship with Japan and Korea” in a manner that she compared to NATO and “investing in more military assets.”
- Minister Anand echoed these shifts in a press conference, noting funds for a new frigate to augment annual naval deployments to the region, capacity-building in Southeast Asia, as well as intelligence capabilities to “enable close collaboration with our Five Eyes and regional partners.”
- Speaking to CTV on China, Joly stated that “we are calling a spade a spade” and reiterated that “we will compete with China when we ought and we will cooperate with them when we must” and that “the idea is to make sure the frame is clear.”
Economic stakeholders react — The business community was largely optimistic about the strategy’s promises and understandings but sought specifics:
- Carlo Dade, Director of the Trade & Investment Centre at the Canada West Foundation, cautioned that “for this strategy to be taken seriously, there has to be indication that they will outlast changes in government” and that Ottawa’s reputation is that is “we show up and disappear.”
- Goldy Hyder, President of the Business Council of Canada, said that in China, “business is in the business of managing risks” and that “we are glad that nobody said, ‘Don’t do businesses in an x, y or z country.’ I think that would have been counterproductive and harmful.”
- Separately, Hyder called for “an express commitment by the government to provide secure supplies of Canadian LNG to our allies in the region along with specific details of how it will expedite the approval of Pacific-coast energy export infrastructure” given energy security concerns.
- Meredith Lilly, a former trade adviser to Stephen Harper, observed that there was “no mention of friendshoring” and that “if anything, the strategy offers a rebuke, proposing greater diversification and doubling down on adherence to rules as resilient responses to protectionism.”
What commentators think — Scholars both welcomed the announcement and noted the room to be more regionally sensitive as the U.S. and China differed:
- Roland Paris, a former senior advisor to Justin Trudeau, termed it “the most substantive strategic document on foreign policy that we’ve seen from any Canadian government for a long time” but asked for government “reporting on whether it’s meeting specific targets.”
- Shaun Narine, a professor at St. Thomas University, suggested it appears to be “going in with our presumptions about what the regional state should be, about what it is that we expect of them” and that “we’re not listening to what they want. We’re not actually considering what their interests are.”
- Stéphanie Martel, a Distinguished Fellow at the Asia Pacific Foundation, noted Ottawa’s language on its Strategic Partnership with ASEAN was at times inconsistent with what ASEAN was referencing, saying “we should also invest in improving our understanding of how ASEAN works.”
- U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Cohen was quick to issue a statement, calling Ottawa “one of the United States’s most important friends and allies, to advance our countries’ shared priorities in the Indo-Pacific region.”
- Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian said the strategy was “dominated by ideological bias,” noting past Canadian remarks on how it “would like to improve and grow relations” but that it “needs to honor its words, show sincerity and goodwill, [and] seek common ground while reserving differences.”