Canada will attempt to balance its approach to an “increasingly disruptive” China by investing billions of dollars toward economic opportunities in the Indo-Pacific region while strengthening its security and intelligence networks, a long-awaited strategy released Sunday says.
The federal Indo-Pacific Strategy seeks to take advantage of the economic growth in the region — estimated to be home to over half the global economy by 2040 — while also pursuing Canadian priorities in climate change prevention, rights for women and girls and Indigenous reconciliation.
Yet the threat posed by China looms large over the plan, which aims to maintain diplomatic ties and find common ground where possible while also defending Canada’s interests and security.
“We will compete with China when we ought to and we will cooperate with China when we must,” Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly told Mercedes Stephenson on The West Block shortly before the strategy was publicly released.
Pointing to China’s gradual bending of international norms for its own purposes and its buildup of military forces, Joly said the superpower’s aggressive moves underline “why we need to step up our game.”
“We need to invest more in this part of the world because it is extremely important for our own sovereignty and also our own peace and stability,” she said.
The strategy includes the deployment of additional military assets to the region, including frigates tasked with not only ensuring security in Chinese airspace and waters but also the continued implementation of sanctions on North Korea.
There will also be further investment in domestic and regional cybersecurity infrastructure — as well as in the RCMP, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, and other security and border agencies — to protect Canada from cyberattacks and foreign interference.
The latter issue has received fresh scrutiny in recent weeks. Canadian intelligence officials have warned Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that China has allegedly been targeting Canada with a vast campaign of foreign interference, which includes funding a clandestine network of at least 11 federal candidates running in the 2019 election, according to Global News sources.
The RCMP is also investigating so-called “police stations” allegedly set up by Beijing in Toronto and Vancouver to crack down on the activities of Chinese-Canadians.
“When it comes to foreign interference in general, I think we have to do more to counter it,” Joly said. “And that’s why we’re putting $150 million on the table to deal with this, because we need to step up our game.
“We need to invest in intelligence agencies and also in the RCMP.”
The strategy acknowledges that China’s “sheer size and influence makes cooperation necessary” to address climate change and other serious issues, as well as to maintain existing economic ties. Canadian exports to China totaled $28.84 billion last year, according to Statistics Canada customs data, accounting for over four per cent of all exports. Imports from China, meanwhile, totaled $85.67 billion, or 14 per cent of Canada’s intake.
Yet calls have been growing for years for Ottawa to become less reliant on that trade activity, for fears of further funding China’s rise as a global superpower that could overtake the western world, and to counter the growing aggression seen under President Xi Jinping’s leadership.
Those calls grew even louder during the nearly three-year detention in China of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, whose arrests were seen as retaliation after the RCMP detained Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou at the request of the United States over bank fraud allegations. The Canadians were ultimately released last year after Meng was allowed to return to China, but the incident sparked fears over Beijing’s use of coercive diplomacy to achieve its aims.
China has also become increasingly vocal about its intent to bring Taiwan back into its circle of influence, despite the democratic island’s resistance. Beijing has sent military planes and naval fleets into the Taiwan Strait in recent weeks, in what Canada and its allies view as acts of intimidation, and Xi has refused to take the possibility of military intervention off the table.
While partially focused on China, the Indo-Pacific Strategy looks elsewhere in the region for investment and trade opportunities.
The document includes plans to grow economic ties with India while establishing a trade gateway in southeast Asia as a market gateway for countries like Indonesia and Malaysia. Existing ties with Japan and South Korea will be further strengthened.
A new Indo-Pacific Trade Representative will be appointed under the strategy to advance Canada’s relationship with the region, and a series of Canada-led trade missions will further develop relationships.
Joly said $2.2 billion in new money will be invested immediately as a “down payment” to begin implementing portions of the strategy.
“There is a generational global shift happening in the region,” she said. “Tensions are flaring, but at the same time, there’s a lot of economic growth. So we need to be there to seize these opportunities and create good jobs at home.”
Those tensions, beyond China, include the continued provocations of North Korea through missile tests and threats of nuclear strikes, as well as the unrest in Myanmar, which is still reeling from a military coup nearly two years ago.
The plan includes bolstering Canada’s contributions to the Five Eyes alliance and further defence and intelligence cooperation with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the North Pacific.
Military and naval capacities in the Indo-Pacific will also be enhanced and expanded.
Beyond trade, the strategy also includes boosting travel and immigration opportunities between Canada and the region, along with strengthening the international student program and supporting francophone immigration objectives from French-speaking countries like Vietnam and Cambodia. Fighting anti-Asian hate will also be a key pillar of Canada’s anti-racism strategy.
Human rights supports will be strengthened under the plan, including for women and girls, LGBTQ2+ people, and religious minorities like Uyghurs and the Rohingya.
The plan includes building a cooperative climate change strategy that focuses on promoting Canadian clean technology in the region and helping countries shift away from coal, as well as protecting fish stocks from illegal fishing.
Joly says the overall goal is to grow Canada’s influence in the Indo-Pacific by recognizing its status as a Pacific nation, while helping lead efforts to ensure peace and security in the region.
“This is a whole of society approach and I think it’s a good plan, an ambitious plan, and I really hope that we can work all together as Canadians to raise the flag and be present in the region,” she said.