MANILA, Philippines – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivered an impassioned pitch to core members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Tuesday to open the door to Canada joining its exclusive and influential circle.
Trudeau said Canada looks forward to becoming a member of the association’s East Asia Summit and the ASEAN defence ministers panel at the earliest opportunity.
“Canada is not only willing, but ready to be a key partner for the next 50 years,” Trudeau said in a speech in Manila, Philippines, at a special ASEAN-Canada summit in front of leaders of an alliance that includes Indonesia, Vietnam and Myanmar.
“This would allow Canada to become a full and dynamic partner of ASEAN.”
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With the appearance, Trudeau became the first Canadian prime minister to participate in the one-hour exchange at the ASEAN summit, during which members were to ask him questions and debate the depth of Canada’s co-operation in the region.
The opportunity arrives as Trudeau makes efforts to raise Canada’s international profile and demonstrate it can wrestle with complicated challenges, at home and abroad. His government has also been building a case with hope it can eventually obtain a seat on the United Nations Security Council.
Trudeau was asked later in the day about why he’s interested in expanding Canada’s engagement in the Asia-Pacific region.
He replied that Canada currently has a mostly economic relationship with the region through its membership at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation.
“There is more than just economics to discuss and the East Asia Summit has become the central place for discussing Pacific issues,” he told a news conference Tuesday.
“Canada is a Pacific country, as you well know, and being able to engage on broader issues of security, of development, of human rights, of economic opportunity – broader than just the APEC group – is very much in line with how Canada wants to and should engage constructively with the region and, indeed, with the world.”
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The East Asia Summit is a larger ASEAN grouping focused on security that brings together leaders from 18 countries, including the U.S., China and Russia.
“Canada is deeply committed to multilateral institutions and fora, and the East Asia Summit is an important one in an extremely compelling and growing region of the world,” he said.
During his speech, Trudeau highlighted Canada’s efforts to help the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, including its decision to appoint former Liberal MP Bob Rae as a special envoy to the region.
He told the room that Rae will engage in diplomatic efforts and identify ways in which Canada can support the response to the situation and the plight of the Rohingya minority.
Trudeau was referring to a crackdown against the Rohingya by Myanmar’s security forces that began in late August. The alleged attacks have forced more than 600,000 Rohingyas into exile in neighbouring Bangladesh.
Trudeau also said Canada stands alongside Asia in demanding that North Korea abandon its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.
“North Korea must immediately cease all activities that go against its international obligations and United Nations Security Council resolutions,” he said.
Trudeau attended the ASEAN summit thanks to an invitation from Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who sat across from the Canadian leader as he made his remarks.
Francisco Fernandez of the Philippine embassy in Ottawa says Canada sought the invitation and Manila didn’t hesitate to grant it, partly because of trade and investment ties and partly due to the 837,000 people of Filipino descent who live in Canada.