Marginalized or central middle power? Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategic Choice – Analysis – Eurasia Review


By Dr. Stephen Nagy and Dr. Phar Kim Beng

In mid-April 2021, Google announced that the first undersea cable, known as the TOPAZ cable, would link Asia and Canada. The cable will likely be completed by 2023 and will run from Vancouver to the Japanese towns of Mie and Ibaraki.

In the above context, Canada has a critical interest in ensuring that the Indo-Pacific region remains free, open and inclusive. The main priorities are for the region to remain stable, governed by rules and free from Machiavellian approaches to the fittest in international relations.

These priorities have become more tangible with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and China’s use of law, gray area operations and divisionism in the case of ASEAN and the EU to achieve its fundamental interests, which include: 1) state sovereignty; 2) national security; 3) territorial integrity; 4) national reunification; 5) political and social stability; and 6) sustainable economic and social development.

To achieve Canada’s national interests, Ottawa should accelerate the formulation and announcement of its Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS), a strategy that should reflect the principles of the region remaining free and open. This will serve Canada’s enduring national interest in maintaining a rules-based order, an order that prioritizes the arbitration of international affairs through international law and peaceful approaches to dispute resolution.

Failure to do so risks Canada becoming a marginalized middle power rather than a central power in the Indo-Pacific region, as it will not participate in the rule-making process for the region or defend it through diplomacy, international cooperation and contribution to the region through the promotion of trade, inclusive development and standard setting.

Notably, this rule-based order is not set in stone. It is an evolving order based on dialogue, compromise and the need to develop new rules to govern emerging areas such as AI, digital economy, cyberspace, etc. At the same time, this order strives to preserve rules that limit the ability of states to use military or other means to dominate other countries, as we saw with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. .

Does Canada have a place in the Indo-Pacific?

For starters, Canada is a member of the East Asia Summit (EAS). Canada could not have become a member of the EAS, which is being held just after the year-end ASEAN summit, if it had not first been a signatory to the Treaty of Friendship and cooperation (TAC).

Joining the TAC is imperative to becoming an ASEAN dialogue partner. The UK signed it last year to break the moratorium imposed by ASEAN since 1999.

The moratorium began in 1999, during the tenure of the late Rudolfo Severino, the ASEAN Secretary General, due to an increasing number of countries wishing to become a dialogue partner. ASEAN’s first dialogue partner was Australia in 1974.

At the time, there was nothing particularly special about the designation; however, it gave Australia a voice within ASEAN over events in Indochina, where Australia worked successfully with Indonesia to end the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in 1975.

When the invasion ended in 1990, it paved the way for the establishment of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) to allow various factions to hold elections. UNTAC was headed by the late Akashi Yasushi, who later headed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Canada has been an ASEAN dialogue partner for decades. Despite this partnership, Canada’s influence has remained marginal. Its diplomacy has been underrepresented, its trade stable if relatively underperforming, and “while Ottawa moved to create a network of ties, Washington, Canberra and Wellington moved more quickly to redefine their relationship with this dynamic part of the world, including ASEAN. The United States has “rebalanced”, Australia has embraced the “Asian Century”, and New Zealand has an “ASEAN Partnership: A Path to Ten Nations” strategy.

The end result was that countries like Australia became ASEAN’s Comprehensive Strategic Partners in 2021, due to their long history and deeper involvement.

Since China wanted to commemorate its 30th anniversary with ASEAN, a relationship marked by China becoming an ASEAN dialogue partner in 1991, Beijing agreed to become a comprehensive strategic partner on the condition that must accept the ASEAN outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP).

Although it may not seem like much, the AOIP is inextricably linked to the TAC – a key founding document of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations since its historic summit in Bali I. The TAC is not so much a “treated” than an aspiration. norm: no signatory must use force as an instrument of its foreign policy.

However, the TAC was introduced as the first necessary condition to be part of the EAS, whose inaugural summit was held in Kuala Lumpur in December 2005.

ASEAN member states assumed, wrongly as it turned out, that the TAC would be a significant hurdle to prevent Anglo-Saxon powers such as Australia, New Zealand and the United States ( United States) to join the EAS, which was mainly the domain of ASEAN, China, Japan and South Korea.

Placing the TAC as an “impediment” has worked for a while. Then came 2011, when President Barack Obama and President Vladimir Putin both decided to sign the TAC anyway. With the stroke of a pen, they were part of the EAS.

This is why the whole debate about whether Putin should be at the G-7 meeting or not is not strategically considered. Diplomatically, it is important to hold Russia accountable to the TAC, even if it is just an ambitious document, with urging rhetoric.

No one can win an outright war against a nuclear-armed state. On the contrary, it is about scoring tactical points. A game similar to hitting the Gopher that kept popping up in the video game arcade.

Putin showing up in Bali, face-to-face with other G-7 leaders, is where ideally some sort of dialogue could take place, because Russia is literally a bull in a Chinese store. . The whole world knows that Russia has “lost” the hearts and minds of its Pan-Slavic neighbor, all 44 million.

So, if half of life is showing up, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau of Canada must also be present at the EAS and the G-20 summit, of which he is a member of both. Canada must be there with an SPI that reflects Canada’s national interests, a sustainable and long-term commitment to the region, and a distinct brand that is distinct from the United States, otherwise it will be seen as a junior partner in the Indo market. -American too secure from the United States. Pacific Strategy.

So, what is so strategically important about a Canadian SPI that includes a free and open direction to articulate Canada’s vision for itself in the region?

Undoubtedly, strategic ambiguity is getting more and more costly day by day. In meetings with regional Indo-Pacific stakeholders, it is not uncommon to hear diplomats and policy-oriented academics scoff at Canada’s absence from the Indo-Pacific and reflect on its marginalization of middle powers in the region.

That is if his IPS is left unsaid, unwritten and unspecified at the ministerial level or at the highest level. As it stands, Canada appears to have completely disabled its IPS.

Given that Google has just announced that it will be laying its first long undersea fiber optic Internet cable from Japan to Canada, and it will also not be the only Internet backbone in the Pacific in due course, Canada must be prepared to protect the structural integrity of this cable. The amount of data, traffic and connectivity, needless to say, would be invaluable.

Yet a revisionist power like Russia, knowing that Canada is a strong ally of the Group of 7, would have no qualms about using its cable-cutting submarine, potentially unmanned underwater drones, to smash the cable in two, either during or after its completion.

The question is not “why”, but “why not?” In a world of great power rivalry, any loss suffered by the other amounts to its immediate gains.

If Canada deeply believes in renouncing force as an instrument of foreign policy, then having an IPS based on support for a free and open region is far more compelling than having nothing at all.

Equally important, Indonesia’s ex-foreign minister Marty Natalegawa once proposed an Indo-Pacific treaty in 2013, which would be modeled on the TAC.

While wars cannot be banned, as the Briand Kellogg Act of 1921 amply showed, which remains legally active, a treaty like the TAC or the Indo-Pacific TAC can clearly show who the aggressors are.

As a “middle power,” Canada should work with a coalition that is also anti-war and pro-peace. Ideally, the above “treaties” would in due course lead to a legally enforceable code of conduct in the South China Sea.

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly and Defense Minister Anita Anand received mandate letters from Prime Minister Trudeau in December 2021. These letters direct them to formulate a Canadian Indo-Pacific Strategy.

Instilling TAC into a Canadian Indo-Pacific strategy would distinguish Canada’s Indo-Pacific approach from its southern neighbour. It would also be a model that would allow Canada to include other strategic priorities such as trade, the digital economy, inclusive development, energy security, climate change and support for a rules-based order.

This inclusive approach does not alienate any country, but also clearly expresses Canada’s interest in a rules-based, non-confrontational Indo-Pacific strategy.

The opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of


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