About the author:
Dr. Waseem Ishaque, Senior Fellow of Taihe Institute
On November 27, 2022, the Government of Canada promulgated the Indo-Pacific Strategy and joined the US Club of China containment. The Indo-Pacific Strategy customarily highlights the importance of the Indo-Pacific region for Canada and its national interests, and underlines the significance of the region for Canada’s long-term security, prosperity, and economic development. Adopting a whole government approach, the strategy commits Canada’s deeper and more substantive engagement in the region. While the Strategy presents a rosy picture and a flowery introduction in the preamble, highlighting the importance and significance of the Indo-Pacific region, which promises immense benefits for Canada and its people based on constructive engagement with the regional partners and great powers, especially the United States, the underlying motives and concerns about China are self-defeating, exaggerated, and aimed at toeing the US and Japan’s line of thinking about China’s assessment, intentions, and power potentials contrary to facts and ground realities. This research article examines Canada’s Indo-Pacific strategy 2022 and investigates a specific chapter on China for its true motives and intentions.
Cardinal Aspects of Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy 2022
Following the template of the U.S. and its allies, Canada issued a much-awaited Indo-Pacific strategy on November 27, 2022, which aligns with the broader outlook of Canada’s allies and partners, mainly the U.S., UK, the EU, Australia, Japan, and the ROK. The strategy outlines four key areas and five strategic objectives, including the plan of action for each of the key objectives and the intended outcome. Canada strives to be a significant player in capitalizing on the region’s opportunities and making positive contributions. However, China has been portrayed as a challenge. The strategy has a dedicated exclusive paragraph on strategic challenges, where China has been described as the main actor in reshaping the outlook of states and the Indo-Pacific region as a whole. On Canada’s engagement in the region, again a dedicated portion on China appears, where China’s outlook and regional contributions have been falsely explained and over-exaggerated.
Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy and Mythology of China Containment
Traditionally, Canada has toed the US line of foreign policy, especially towards regional issues and dealing with China. Therefore, in that context, the recently issued Canadian Indo-Pacific strategy widely aligns with the US Indo-Pacific Strategy 2022 and Japan’s National Security Strategy 2022. While Canada is not yet a member of the QUAD and the AUKUS alliance led by the United States against China, the intentions, motives, and methodology adopted by Canada are very clear and disturbing. The unnecessary trumpeting of the “China Threat Theory” does not augur well for enduring peace and stability in the region and is also counterproductive for creating congenial working relations among the major stakeholders, where China has many stakes. The undiplomatic language on China with the dedication of specific paragraphs has come as a surprise, as Canada has traditionally maintained reasonably good trade and diplomatic relations with China. There is a significant departure from the past Canadian policy on China as the new strategy explicitly designated China as a strategic challenge. Page 3 of the document claims that “China’s rise as a global actor is reshaping the strategic outlook of every state in the region, including Canada.” It further elaborates that “China has benefitted from the rules-based international order to grow and prosper, but it is now actively seeking to reinterpret these rules to gain greater advantage.” In the same breath, it labels that “China’s assertive pursuit of its economic and security interests, advancement of unilateral claims, foreign interference and increasingly coercive treatment of other countries and economies have significant implications in the region, in Canada and around the world.” It adds that “the respect for the sovereignty of other states is a cornerstone of the rules-based international order and of governments’ ability to work together to solve shared problems.” The exclusive paragraphs on China from page 7 to page 9 are very disturbing and demonstrate unanimity of assessment between Canada, the U.S., and Japan. Some of the important quotes are reproduced here for ease of assimilation and analysis. It begins with an anecdote of engagement with China as a critical part of Canada’s strategy. However, it disregards the diplomatic norms of addressing China. The strategy highlights that “China is a disruptive global power.” It further adds that “China’s rise, enabled by the same international rules and norms that it now increasingly disregards, has had an enormous impact on the Indo-Pacific, and it has ambitions to become the leading power in the region.” The strategy claims that “China is making large-scale investments to establish its economic influence, diplomatic impact, offensive military capabilities, and advanced technologies.” The most disturbing aspects are that “China is looking to shape the international order into a more permissive environment for interests and values that increasingly depart from ours.” Without substantiation, it criticizes China for “China’s disregard for UN rulings on disputes in the South China Sea, and its actions to further militarize that region and challenge navigation and overflight rights.” The Canadian strategy unnecessarily highlights China’s internal policies of consolidation and best service to Chinese people as controversial with complete disregard for the ground realities propagating minorities’ rights, labor, and trade practices. Provocative language has also been used where Canada feels obliged to challenge China on the pretext that “when China engages in coercive behaviour—economic or otherwise—ignores human rights obligations or undermines our national security interests and those of partners in the region.”
The strategy also highlights Canada’s special type of relations with Taiwan, while adhering to the “One China” principle, stressing much deeper engagement in trade, technology, health, and democratic governance opposing unilateral actions to change the status quo in Taiwan. Another significant aspect claimed against China is that “China wants to shape the international order into a more permissive environment for interests and values that increasingly depart from Canada and its allies and partners.”
There are specific paragraphs on the role and relationship with India, Japan, the ROK, and Australia apart from the comprehensive dedication to the UK and the EU. These countries are part of the US alliance partnership in the Indo-Pacific and this strategy aptly absorbs the important aspect of the US Indo-Pacific strategy, QUAD, and Japan’s NSS. India has been projected as a significant player and advised to play a greater role. All these strategies see India at the heart of success for a free and open Indo-Pacific. And India is happy to embrace the new role of championing China’s containment. By all rational analysis, these strategies complement each other in exaggerating the threat against China and forging alliances to undo China’s peaceful development. The cold war mentality of zero-sum game and containment is repeated once again in the Indo-Pacific region against China, with complete disregard for China’s benign intent, cooperative and constructive engagement for common development, and ensuring enduring peace and stability in the region.
There is a growing list of countries joining U.S.-led alliances in the Indo-Pacific region, even multiple alliance systems with implicit intentions of China containment. The visible and more pronounced ones are US NSS 2022, the US Indo-Pacific Strategy 2022, QUAD, AUKUS, Japan’s NSS, and India’s Indo-Pacific strategy. While all such strategies and their time-to-time press briefings are quite provocative and unnecessarily involved in projecting China as a strategic challenge, aimed at rewriting the rules of international order. Such baseless accusations are aimed at deflecting and diverting China from the strategic choices of peaceful development, creating a community of shared destiny and future through common development and win-win cooperation. Constructive engagement and pragmatic foreign policy of cooperation are key to success, and will nullify the perceived Western alliance of China containment.
Please note: The above contents only represent the views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views or positions of Taihe Institute.
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