Canadian Foreign Policy Leaked

There are good reasons why the Harper government would want to keep its draft document of Canada’s new foreign policy a secret. One tends to keep secret what one does not want made public. In the case of the leaked draft, the secret is not Canada’s shift to Asia as well as Africa and South America.

Rather, what had been kept secret was the slowness with which Canada has been making the transition, and its intent on seeking relationships with ideologically opposed countries. In simpler terms, the Canadian government has elected to overlook certain inconveniences for economic opportunities.

None of this should come as a surprise. The pursuit of economic interests cares not for ideological purity. Instead, what is surprising (if not dishonest) is the announcement that the government is only now considering political partnerships with countries who do not share the same values as we do, as if to say past partnerships have been formed on the basis of democracy and human rights.

From Asia to Africa to South America, there is no shortage of authoritarian regimes and despot governments. The question that Prime Minister Harper must answer is whether the benefits of partnering with such nations outweigh the risks, and whether it can commit intensively to so many regions.

Trade at what cost

Central to any new foreign policy change in Asia is Canada’s relationship with China. There is of course Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand, as well as our traditional partners in Japan, South Korea, and Singapore; but when discussing Asia, it is almost always with China in mind.

It was in 2006, not after being elected, when Prime Minister Harper declared that Canada would not sell out its values to the “almighty dollar”. A key change in the draft, however, suggested that the Harper government is revisiting its stance.

This is not to say that the Canadian government has not reached out to China, although it was in 2010 when the prime minister first set foot in Beijing. One can argue that efforts to court Chinese businesses have, for the most part, been somewhat successful, particularly with its signing of the Foreign Investment Protection and Promotion Agreement (FIPPA) with China.

The bilateral agreement has received its fair share of criticism, stemming in part from Ottawa’s handling of the affair in Parliament, and whether the agreement is disadvantageous for Canada and Canadian businesses, Whatever the criticisms, however, FIPPA is the punctuation mark at the end of a declaration: Canada is ready and willing to do business with China.

Of course, one should not take Prime Minister Harper to the woodshed over FIPPA. It cannot be denied that China will play an important role in Canada’s economic future, and that Canadians and Canadian businesses will suffer if we do not take advantage of the opportunities offered by the world’s second largest economy.

However, as is true in daily life, everything in moderation. It is entirely possible to pursue a practical relationship with China (and any other country with which Canada is fundamentally in opposition), but one must be made aware of the limits imposed by such a relationship. To trade with a country opposed to us could eventually lead to a conflict of interest. Otherwise, why has Canada not pursued trade relationships with Iran, Syria, or North Korea? If our trade is about the bottom line, then surely there is something we can sell and buy from these countries?

Fortunately, we do care about the people we trade with; and Iran, Syria, and North Korea are not countries we desire to call “partner” in their current state. When the basic values of two nations are at odds, the relationship between the two can only go so far. It is always easier dealing with those similar to us rather than those opposed to us.

China, however, presents a special case given the potential economic benefits. Given this, it is incumbent upon our government to exercise caution when dealing with China, not simply with respect to the disparity between Canadian and Chinese power and influence, but our basic moral standing.

And it is not only China with whom we must be cautious, but the many similar Asian, African, and South American nations.

Commitment for Canada

The leaked draft indicates the Canadian government’s intent on opening new markets in South America (which has been underway for quite some time) and Africa. Although new markets in these regions will serve to benefit Canada, it is questionable whether the government possesses not only the resources but focus necessary to achieve its goals.

Given the speed with which the government sought out Asian markets, one can conclude that any attempts to open new markets in Africa and South America will take some time.

Rather than divert its resources across three fronts, the Harper government would be better off focusing on one continent and committing fully. Whether Canada chooses to commit in Asia, Africa, or South America, it can no longer sit back and pass up on opportunities. Canadians and Canadian businesses suffer from inaction. Conversely, so too will they suffer if action is taken in haste.

It is a careful needle to thread, but this was why the prime minister and his party were elected to majority: to not only make the hard decisions but make them right. It is on their shoulders the future of this country. Success and failure in this endeavour rest at their feet.

(Khanh Vu Duc is a Canadian lawyer who researches on Vietnamese Politics, International Relations and International Law. He is a frequent contributor to Asia Sentinel.)