This article originally appeared in the Japan Times.
By Stephen Nagy, December 7, 2022
In late November, Canada released its long-delayed Indo-Pacific strategy (CIPS).
It comes in the wake of the Group of 20 and Indo-Pacific summitry and Foreign Minister Melanie Joly’s visit to Tokyo in October to announce the Canada-Japan Action Plan for their joint shared priorities for the Indo-Pacific.
Tokyo should be pleased with Ottawa’s new strategy. It joins an increasingly long list of like-minded countries that explicitly calls out China as “an increasingly disruptive global influence.”
Furthermore, the strategy is candid about Chinese ambitions highlighting that Beijing aims to “become the leading power in the region through large-scale investments to establish its economic influence, diplomatic impact, offensive military capabilities and advanced technologies.”
Prominently, it highlights that China is looking to shape the international order into an environment for interests and values that increasingly depart from those of more liberal democracies and governments (that includes Japan’s values too). This can be seen in Beijing’s disregard for U.N. rulings on disputes in the South China Sea and its actions to further militarize and control the region.
This unequivocal stance on China’s efforts to erode the rules-based order of the Indo-Pacific will be welcomed in Japan, one of the countries on the front line of Beijing’s efforts to reshape the Indo-Pacific region with Chinese characteristics.
Canada’s unapologetic position that it will defend its national interest, whether it be in regards to the rules that govern global trade, human rights or navigation and overflight rights resonates with Tokyo’s deep concerns about China.
Those include China’s disregard for U.N. rulings on disputes in the South China Sea, its actions to further militarize that region, challenge transit rights, its recent military drills around Taiwan and its track record of economic coercion, gray zone and lawfare tactics to pressure Japan and other like-minded countries to head to Beijing’s demands.
While employing tough language on China, the CIPS has also not ruled our cooperation with China on global issues such as climate change, biodiversity loss, global health and nuclear proliferation. This nonzero sum approach to China is important for Canada and Japan in the wake of a spate of North Korean missile tests, the tangible detrimental effects of a changing climate throughout the region and the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The acknowledgements of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations centrality and efforts to strengthen strategic relations with the regional bloc, as well as seeking to negotiate free trade agreements in Southeast Asia will anchor Canada in the region.
For Tokyo, this complements its of Free and Open Indo-Pacific Vision (FOIP) by having a like-minded partner embedded in the region that advocates for many the same priorities as Tokyo: a rules-based regional order, open and fair trade, international law, infrastructure and connectivity based on financial sustainability, transparency and environmental sustainability.
Sharing the view of ASEAN centrality as the cornerstone of Indo-Pacific strategic engagement creates more buy-in for Southeast Asian countries. They worry that Indo-Pacific strategies will marginalize their strategic autonomy and make them vulnerable to U.S.-China strategic competition, with the uncomfortable choice of choosing between two critical partners.
At a more specific level, CIPS outlines new formulas for security cooperation between Canada and Japan, including through the negotiation of a General Security of Information Agreement with Japan.
It also aims to strengthen critical minerals, hydrogen and clean energy sources, positioning Canada as a responsible and reliable energy security partner, by engaging in new opportunities presented by Japan and South Korea’s increased demand. The GSIA will help Tokyo with security challenges in the region and for energy poor Japan. The long-standing and trusted relationship with Canada, along with critical mineral and energy cooperation, will help make Japan less vulnerable to the flagrancies of revisionist petro-states like Russia.
Canada’s efforts to support and strengthen stability on the Korean Peninsula and, more generally, in the Indo-Pacific, is also a boon to Tokyo as Pyongyang continues to test missiles in the Sea of Japan and and through ICBM tests over Japan.
This increased effort will complement already pre-existing Canadian security contributions in the region such as participation in operations to enforce sanctions on North Korea, participation in joint military exercises, the rotation of Canadian naval vessels in the region to contribute to naval diplomacy, maritime domain awareness activities and transits through the Taiwan Strait. These activities support a rules-based order.
On expanding trade, investment and supply chain resilience as expounded in the CIPS, Canada will advocate for the expansion of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership based on high standards and track records. For innovation and trading economies like Japan and Canada, this means they are at the table instead of on the menu in terms of promoting high quality trade rules that focus on intellectual property rights, environment and labor laws, as well as the digital economy.
A commitment to join the newly established Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity will help Canada be part of the emerging standard setting framework for the region. Alongside Japan, the U.S., South Korea, Australia and Southeast Asian countries, the IPEF will provide a critical mass of countries that work toward convergence of standards for trade, the environment and infrastructure that will act as a counterweight to China’s Belt Road Initiative.
CIPS reflects Canadian national interests within the Indo-Pacific however they should not be seen as a “Canada First” foreign policy. It is a strategy built on five interconnected priorities including:
Promoting peace, resilience and security
Expanding trade, investment and supply chain resilience
Investing in and connecting with people
Building a sustainable and green future
Canada as an active and engaged partner to the Indo-Pacific that resonates deeply with Japanese commitments to peace, development, prosperity and stability in the Indo-Pacific based on a rules-based order.
As like-minded countries, Canada and Japan share values and interests. Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy and Japan’s FOIP vision are an investment in robust defense against global challenges and in strengthening the rules-based international order.
Stephen R. Nagy is a Senior Associate Professor at the International Christian University in Tokyo and a Senior Fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.