VANCOUVER – The federal government has been quietly working on an Indo-Pacific strategy – perhaps since last year – and one critic says the low-key approach raises questions about the plan’s progress.
As relations with Beijing continue to deteriorate, a renewed focus on the Indo-Pacific region is seen as a way for Canada to diversify its foreign trade away from China and into the two-dozen-country region, which includes countries like India and Australia. and Indonesia.
This approach has been touted by foreign relations and trade scholars as something Ottawa must take in the face of an increasingly hostile mainland China.
But Conservative MP and member of Parliament’s Special Committee on Canada-China Relations, Garnett Genuis, said he was concerned that nothing had been made public about the strategy. He said he had not even heard of the government working on it until it was reached by the Star.
“I don’t remember any mention of government ministers or witnesses mentioning it at any time,” Genuis said. “This is further proof that they are not taking the need for Indo-Pacific engagement as seriously as they should be.”
According to Statistics Canada, in 2018, Canada imported $ 46 billion in goods from China while exporting $ 29 billion to the country.
That same year, Canada’s combined exports to the major Indo-Pacific countries, India and Japan, totaled $ 18 billion, while imports from these countries reached $ 17 billion.
Global Affairs Canada has said the strategy will involve foreign policy, trade and development assistance, but will not say when details can be released.
Global Affairs spokesperson Angela Savard said Canada is committed to an Indo-Pacific strategy and will be supported by the country’s participation in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) .
The 11-country free trade partnership was first signed at the end of 2018 and involves countries in the Asia-Pacific region. China is not part of the deal.
Evelyn Puxley, former director of policy and coordination in the China division of Global Affair, is the strategy leader, according to the government personnel online directory.
A LinkedIn page appearing to be Puxley’s said she was placed in the role last November. She did not return calls made by the Star to her business number.
As Canada-China relations have deteriorated in recent years following the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou at the Vancouver airport at the behest of the United States, the pressure is on on Ottawa to seek new trading partners has increased.
Margaret McCuaig-Johnston is a former Assistant Deputy Minister who has spent decades helping to build Canada-China relations and recently asked Ottawa to focus more on the Indo-Pacific region.
Reached by the star last Friday, McCuaig-Johnston said Canada needs to deepen its engagement with countries in the region through health, economy, security and build closer relations with Taiwan.
“This is all very speculative because we don’t know what the government might want to do about it,” she said. “We haven’t seen any ads or anyone exploring the idea publicly.”
Charles Burton, a former diplomat and expert on Canada-China relations with the Ottawa-based Macdonald-Laurier Institute, said Canada’s participation in the CPTPP is a big part of the plan, as members of the pact are already Indo-countries. peaceful.
Now, said Burton, Canada should look to the rest of the countries in the Indo-Pacific region to forge trade and security ties as a “common front” to counter China’s influence.
He said trade with Indo-Pacific countries could eventually surpass trade with China and lead to more reciprocity and fair trade between Canada and its partner countries.
Burton said he believes the strategy is being kept under wraps for fear of angering Beijing and because many officials who have encouraged Canada to strengthen ties with China over the years might see the plan as an admission that their Chinese strategy has failed.
He said the approach had hurt Canada’s interests in trade and other areas.
“I think there is a misrepresentation of the importance of the Chinese economy to Canada,” he said, “which is then used as a justification to compromise the interests of our Canadians in the field. security and in maintaining standards of governance and fairness. and reciprocity. “
Genuis said the Liberal government has been working on the strategy long enough for some details of the plan to be publicly disclosed, but he is concerned that some in Ottawa have yet to abandon their original vision of Canada-China relations.
He said many countries and observers who follow developments regarding China realize that relations with Beijing will not “return” to where they were before the pandemic.
“Sadly, this government has been slow to recognize the reality that they cannot have all of their eggs in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) basket,” he said. “There are still a lot of people in government who would like to ignore our Indo-peaceful allies and instead focus exclusively on appeasing the PRC and getting back to what they consider normal.