Canada’s New Indo-Pacific Strategy: A Critical Assessment


  • Hugh Stephens



Canada’s Indo Pacific Strategy (IPS), built around five program objectives and funded at CAD$2.3 billion over the initial five year period, has been finally unveiled although details of implementation are generally lacking at present. The strategy lays out an ambitious plan for Canada’s re-engagement with parts of the Indo Pacific region that it has neglected, in relative terms, for a number of years while simultaneously trying to address the challenge of China. The Strategy is a welcome blueprint for diversification of Canadian engagement across various sectors, with ASEAN centrality a key component and closer engagement with North Pacific partners such as Japan and Korea and South Asia, in particular India, constituting core elements, yet the IPS does not close the door on relations with China or propose a decoupling strategy. China is both at the heart of the IPS, and yet not a focus of most of the initiatives. The trade-off for including China in the Strategy seems to have been to vocally demonstrate Canada’s anti-China credentials (to the US and the Canadian public) by talking tough in order to set the stage for more limited forms of ongoing cooperation. This includes calling out Beijing’s activities in a number of areas, including domestic interference in Canadian affairs. There is also a strong infusion of “Canadian values” throughout the document. A risk for Canada is that the Manichean view of China is not shared by many of the countries in the Indo Pacific region that are the targets of the Strategy, and Canada will need to be careful to ensure that strengthening relations with other countries that are targets of the Strategy is based on its own merits and regional priorities and is not portrayed simply as an antidote to expanding Chinese influence. Furthermore, given Canada’s past sporadic engagement with the region it is important that a detailed action plan be put in place quickly. The Trudeau government should be aiming for an “early harvest” for some of the initiatives to avoid the impression of a quick announcement followed by a distinct lag in implementation.






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