This article originally appeared in the Toronto Sun.
By Karthik Nachiappan, March 8, 2023
With Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly having completed her first bilateral visit to India this month, both countries need to reset the Canada-India relationship and deal jointly with global challenges.
Prime ministers Narendra Modi and Justin Trudeau are taking their countries into critical foreign policy junctures. In 2023, India is leading the global multilateral agenda through its G20 presidency, while completing its two-year stint on the United Nations Security Council. India is forging partnerships with countries like Australia, the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates to protect its economy, while Ottawa’s new “Indo-Pacific strategy” charts an ambitious plan to get Canada more deeply engaged in this vital region.
The countries share common values that arise from being pluralistic democracies with considerable faith in the rules-based international order, and both are striving to ensure that the international order remains strong, effective and fit for purpose. Canada and India also share a strategic desire to keep the Indo-Pacific free, open, and transparent to support their long-term growth and prosperity.
Canada’s new Indo-Pacific push will also see both countries embedded within critical security and economic networks. More than ever, they will share opportunities to help address global challenges like climate change, food security, cybersecurity, supply chain constraints, pandemic recovery and debt relief. Both are also supportive of a multi-polar world that gives middle powers the capacity to shape global outcomes while advancing national interests.
But Canada and India also share concerns, notably China’s large and forceful presence in their respective orbits. For India, the Chinese military threat poses challenges that can only be addressed by exploring and exploiting partnerships with its external partners, including Canada. Besides China’s military activities, Delhi and Ottawa have deep concerns over Beijing’s wolf-warrior diplomacy, its use of financial enticement to export its economic model, and its stranglehold over global supply chains.
While Ottawa recognizes China as a disruptive power in its Indo-Pacific strategy, Delhi’s strategy all but revolves around maximizing partnerships and opportunities to manage and deter a rising China. Both countries also share disdain, even if expressed differently, over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s senseless war that has undermined global stability and economics.
Despite mutual interests, values and people-to-people ties, Canada and India have seldom coordinated their efforts to deal with global challenges like climate change, protectionism, infectious diseases or cyberattacks. Canada’s traditional Atlanticist orientation and preference to ally with G7/OECD partners on strategic issues has left Ottawa with few partners among rising powers like India.
India, meanwhile, has pragmatically emphasized relations with major and middle powers who can support its economic trajectory, giving it the means to reduce the yawning power imbalance with China. Canada does not feature here at all. As well, domestic political irritants through the Indian diaspora can also surface to undermine progress.
That said, there is tremendous scope for Canada-India relations to invigorate what has traditionally been an underwhelming economic relationship. India, the world’s fifth-largest economy, is poised to grow rapidly as market reforms continue and the Modi government prioritizes manufacturing, energy transition, and digital transformation. These are all areas that Canada and Canadian firms can contribute to.
As India modernizes its military to face challenges in the Indo-Pacific, an interest that Ottawa shares, it is also partnering on security and transnational issues through the Quad with Canada’s long-standing allies like Australia, Japan and the United States. The thriving, multi-faceted Australia-India relationship could serve as a model to reboot Canada-India ties. Finally, India’s professed interest to use its G20 presidency to amplify development issues aligns well with Canada’s generational impact on global development through its financial assistance and diplomacy.
To fortify their long-term relationship, both countries need to clinch more immediate opportunities while also insulating the relationship from episodic political turbulence. Ottawa must strategically recognize and support India’s economic and geopolitical ascent and help it and other partners manage an increasingly tense Indo-Pacific.
This task is hard, but if successful, this partnership could quickly become integral to both countries.
Karthik Nachiappan is a senior fellow at Macdonald-Laurier Institute and a research fellow at the National University of Singapore.