Asia and Indo-Pacific Relations

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Six ways Canada can boost its business ties to Asia

The Globe and Mail Published Tuesday, Dec. 10 2013

If you had any doubt that the much-proclaimed Pacific, actually Indo-Pacific, Century applies equally to Canada, then look to Harper Government’s new global markets strategy.

Seventeen of its 20 emerging markets and four of its six established markets border or access the Pacific and Indian oceans.

Critics argue that it signals a radical departure from our foreign policy. But, when you look at the details, the new policy is evolutionary rather than revolutionary.

It also reflects recommendations of ongoing work by our think tanks, universities and businesses. There is broad consensus for more focus on new, especially Indo-Pacific, markets.

This reflects two broad trends: First, the reassertion of Asian economic power after a 150-year hiatus; and, second, the need to find alternative markets to the United States.

This quest for counterweights to the U.S. dates back to Sir John A. Macdonald. It has found new advocates with the realization that when it comes to getting the best price for our resources – oil, gas or lumber – we need a second market.

Looking westward makes a lot of sense but keep in mind the following:

First, an Asian policy is a misnomer. One size does not fit all. It is a continent of different regions, religions, ethnicities and languages. There are democracies and dictatorships. If we are to effectively advance Canadian interests we need to tailor policies by country, by region and by sector.

Second, with ties of family, Asian Canadians give us privileged access to Asian markets. They are our best salespersons to attract more talent to our country as either immigrants or students.

Canada is the envy of the world when it comes to practical pluralism. We need to market this advantage as we grow our population.

Recognize the importance of education as a service industry. It is Australia’s fourth largest export. Our government is getting its act together after initial ambivalence. But we are playing catch-up and are well behind the U.S, U.K. and Australia.

Third, use our history. We have trade links dating back more than a century through insurance, banking and shipping, missionaries, teachers and doctors.

Chinese diplomats ask why we do not do more with Norman Bethune. Whatever his politics, he is a Chinese hero. Why not, for example, Bethune scholarships modeled after the successful Fulbright program?

As we reform our Foreign Service, we should also target Asian Canadians who have the practical language skills and family ties that can make all the difference in closing a deal.

Fourth, we want to trade in Asia but first we must exhibit our bona fides on security. China’s recent declaration of an Air Identification Zone is not just a Japan-China-U.S. dispute. It is a challenge to maritime law and freedom of navigation. It threatens the strategic power balance in the region.

Half the world’s shipping passes through South China Sea. That is more than 41,000 ships a year, double the number that pass through the Suez Canal and nearly triple the total for the Panama Canal.

Our trade and commerce depends on these sea routes being secure.

We need to demonstrate that we are as invested in the security of the Indo-Pacific, especially the North Pacific, as we are in the North Atlantic.

This means building our promised fleet and deploying our submarines and maintaining the readiness of our expeditionary capacity.

On North Korea, our policy of controlled engagement is counterproductive. It limits discussions with the North Koreans to issues of regional security concerns, human rights, and consular issues. This effectively means no engagement with the North. This does not help our friends in South Korea.

Fifth, it means being there. We can’t achieve our ‘economic diplomacy’ goals without an active official Canadian presence. Unlike in the West, a government presence in Asia is a big deal. We need more consulates in China, India and Indonesia.

Just because Jean Chrétien, a Liberal, pioneered successful Team Canada missions of premiers and CEOs doesn’t mean that Stephen Harper, a Conservative, shouldn’t do the same. Remember Deng Xiaoping’s observation on white and black cats – it doesn’t matter as long as it catches the mice.

Sixth, our policy must have a democracy angle. It’s who we are as a people.

Mongolia, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Hong Kong – these are middle-income countries possessing nascent democratic institutions. Engage them, not just government-to-government and student-to-student, but party-to-party.

Ties of family and history give us advantages in Asia if we use them. Contributing to its regional security will help us to trade successfully in the Indo-Pacific.