Canada’s return to East Asia

After a decade of neglect, the Canadian govt. is prepared to re-engage East Asia. Canadian policy-makers are seeking to deepen regional diplomacy beyond economic issues.

Canada’s return to East Asia: Re-engagement through maritime diplomacy

By: James Manicom

After a decade of neglect, the Canadian government is prepared to re-engage East Asia. Recognizing that re-engagement must go beyond bilateral economic issues, Canadian policy-makers are seeking to deepen Canada’s regional diplomacy. In June 2012, at the 9th ASEAN-Canada dialogue, Foreign Minister John Baird pledged $10 million to fund various ASEAN initiatives to signal Canada’s commitment to regional stability.

Nevertheless, the region still perceives Canada as a fair-weather Asia-Pacific country that only seeks to establish the basic elements of trade and investment relations to diversify its trading partners. According to then-ASEAN secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan, Canada’s admission to the region’s leading economic and defence forums — the East Asian Summit (EAS) and the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM) — remain out of reach until Southeast Asian states are convinced of the durability of Canada’s re-engagement. Adding a maritime component to Canada’s re-engagement efforts would help build Canada’s prestige while helping mitigate threats to the strategic stability that makes economic growth possible.

Maritime diplomacy contributes to regional peace and stability by addressing urgent problems, such as those affecting trade and fishing in East Asian waters. The region relies heavily on these sectors for growth, but is afflicted with numerous maritime and territorial disputes that are negatively affecting them. These disputes in turn threaten the very economic dynamism that has attracted Canada’s interest in the first place. Canada’s track record as a builder of confidence on disputed maritime boundaries means Canada is well placed to exploit this niche. However, a replication of the 1990s CIDA-funded South China Sea dialogues will not suffice.

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Source: The Star.

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