Canada launched its long-awaited Indo-Pacific strategy on Sunday, vowing more resources to deal with a “disruptive” China while working with the world’s second-biggest economy on climate change and trade issues.
The 26-page document outlined C$2.6 billion ($1.9 billion) spending, including boosting Canada’s military presence and cyber security in the region and tightening foreign investment rules to protect intellectual property and prevent Chinese state-owned enterprises from snapping up critical mineral supplies.
The blueprint is to deepen ties with a fast-growing region of 40 countries accounting for almost C$50 trillion in economic activity. But the focus is on China, which is mentioned more than 50 times, at a moment when bilateral ties are frosty.
“China is an increasingly disruptive global power,” said the strategy. “China is looking to shape the international order into a more permissive environment for interests and values that increasingly depart from ours.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government wants to diversify trade and economic ties that are overwhelmingly reliant on the United States. Official data for September show bilateral trade with China accounted for under seven per cent of the total, compared to 68 per cent for the United States.
The strategy highlighted Beijing’s “foreign interference and increasingly coercive treatment of other countries”.
“Our approach … is shaped by a realistic and clear-eyed assessment of today’s China. In areas of profound disagreement, we will challenge China,” it said.
Tensions soared in late 2018 after Canadian police detained a Huawei Technologies executive and Beijing subsequently arrested two Canadians on spying charges. All three were released last year, but relations remain sour.
Earlier this month Canada ordered three Chinese companies to divest their investments in Canadian critical minerals, citing national security.
The document, in a section mentioning China, said Ottawa would review and update legislation enabling it to act “decisively when investments from state-owned enterprises and other foreign entities threaten our national security, including our critical minerals supply chains”.
The document recognised the significant opportunities for Canadian exporters and said cooperation with Beijing was necessary to address some of the “world’s existential pressures”, including climate change, global health and nuclear proliferation.
Goldy Hyder, CEO of the Business Council of Canada, said it is important that the government converts “aspirations to actions and actions into accomplishments”.
The document said Canada would boost its naval presence in the region and “increase our military engagement and intelligence capacity as a means of mitigating coercive behaviour and threats to regional security.”
Canada belongs to the Group of Seven major industrialised nations, which wants significant measures in response to North Korean missile launches.
The document said Ottawa was engaging in the region with partners such as the United States and the European Union.
Canada needed to keep talking to nations it had fundamental disagreements with, it said, but did not name them.