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The Shangri-La Security Dialogue, a key meeting for Asian defence ministers, has been attended by the Canadian foreign or national defence minister on very few occasions. This approach is heavy on the icons and rhetoric, but it still does not amount to much when compared to what Australia and South Korea are able to accomplish.


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As pointed out by Evans, Canada alone will not determine the fate of China or the global order. Since Canada operates on the periphery of Asia, it needs to find key middle power allies to forge coalitions to influence China. By updating its middle power strategy in Asia, Canada can recalibrate its relationship with China to reflect the power realignment from West to East taking place. Until then, Canada will continue to fail to meet its full potential as a middle power in the region. The current Conservative government came into office in with a profound anti-Chinese and anti-communist attitude.

European economic troubles and the uncertain recovery of the US economy force Canada to look elsewhere to sustain its economic prosperity. When the Conservatives seized power in the elections, their foreign policy platform was a mere words long. This ideological stance, Evans Politically, the relationship had reached its lowest point in Slowly, things started to improve. Maybe Canada could sell the almighty dollar to China after all. Nossal and Sarson suggest that the Harper administration orchestrated an about face regarding their China policy lite for three reasons.

For the Harper government, the most attractive and potentially highly lucrative element of the Canada-China relationship laid in the sale of Canadian oil to Asian states in need of fuel to power their rapidly growing economies, thereby transforming Canada into a petro-state highly vulnerable to oil shocks.

The Human Security Agenda: How Middle Power Leadership Defied U.S. Hegemony

Unfortunately, such policy initiative requires continued interest from foreign partners, in other words China. Lastly, the Conservatives changed their mind regarding China in part due to people-to-people link. See APFC and Former Foreign Minister John Baird can profess that Asia is a foreign policy priority of the Conservatives, but the lack of concrete steps taken to utterly discredits his declarations.

As demonstrated by polling conducted by the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, citizens of Canada primarily identify themselves with the Western world and see little direct benefits in increasing engagement with Asia. As opposed to both Australia and South Korea, Canada has very few initiatives to promote people-to-people connections and cultural exchanges in China, and almost exclusively relies on the ad-hoc connections formed by its Chinese diaspora population. Considering this scholarship is only intended to fund 15 scholars or so, this shockingly exemplifies the state of China studies in Canada.

In turn, students in Canada are not likely either to start looking East to kick-start their careers. For young Canadians, unfortunately, there is little benefit to become knowledgeable about China or Asia. Some scholars decide pursue studies or research in China for only a semester, whereas other stay for up to a year.

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Indeed, acting multilaterally in Asia is in a large part about integrating and socialising China, while also being about managing the difficult relationship between China and the US. As argued by Evans, the contemporary role of middle powers is to bridge differences between various actors internationally. Canadian policymakers should return to pragmatism and to long-term strategic partnerships without regard to ideological differences. What I propose is a three stage strategy to help Canada reassert its middle power status in Asia. First, Ottawa would be better served by adopting hedging strategies like other middle powers of the Asia-Pacific region.

Once Canada regains its status as a middle power, Ottawa could then switch its engagement framework to constructive realism. Middle powers need a strategic framework to engage with China, but desperately need to move beyond hedging. During that period, Canada should work with China on issues that are generally not too sensitive in order to build trust and cultivate networks in China. By then, the first generation of Asia-competent specialists would be entering the workforce, setting the stage for the final strategic framework: co-evolution. Co-evolution, as proposed by former American national security advisor and secretary of state Henry Kissinger, would lead to a stable, predictable, multi-polar world order where China is fully integrated and no longer perceived as a mortal threat.

Trust building measures would have fully matured, and China would have completed its rise and peaceful integration into the reformed world order. Middle powers have partly been caught by surprise by the speed at which China has been transforming. As a result, middle powers have resorted to hedging: relying economically on China while still remaining dependent on the US for security.

Middle Powers in the Twenty first Century World Order

Currently, hedging is the best course for Canada to quickly reengage with the region. In the meantime, hedging would enable Canada to maximise global governance outcomes while diminishing the risks of not being present in Asia by acknowledging the importance of both Washington and Beijing. It would also give Canada enough time to train a critical mass of China specialists for the next phase of constructive realism.

However, hedging would not be a 48 sustainable option over a period of more than 10 years and should eventually be replaced by constructive realism. In other words, my vision of the bilateral relationship has to move beyond its current highly transactional nature. This way, all actors can engage each other, produce tangible results over time, and gradually build enough political and diplomatic capital, and trust to be drawn upon to deal with arising disagreements.

The concept of constructive realism as explained by Rudd seeks to build on both pillars to find an overriding common strategic purpose to sustain, strengthen and reform the existing regional and global rules-based order. Until then, hedging represents a good choice for Canada, provided Ottawa wants to regain its middle power status in the region and start to proactively engage in institution building in the region. Hedging is not necessarily the best long-term strategy for Canada, but it is definitely suited for Ottawa in the context of heightened uncertainty about the future of Sino-US relations.

There are enough talented and intelligent people in this country to craft and implement a better foreign policy for the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. Canadian diplomats and policymakers have traditionally been able to innovate and help Canada punch above its weight in the international arena. If Canada chooses to engage China bilaterally and solely on the basis of narrow economic interests, any effort to convince China to trot along a certain policy path will ultimately be bound to fail. Indeed, alone Canada has little the power and prestige to convince China to backtrack on a certain issue, whereas among a coalition of middle powers, Ottawa at least has a fighting chance.


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Canadians understand that their economic prosperity will increasingly be tied to Asia. Like Australia, Canada has for the most part seen Asian countries as threatening rivals and poorly understood their values and goals. Canada will maintain its special affinity with the US and Europe for quite some time.

It may even be never comfortable enough to see China and Asia through friendly eyes. Still, engaging Asia cannot wait. It is thus time to articulate a clear policy to engage the region beyond the rhetorical. Canadian foreign policy in regards to China should be based on four pillars: middlepowermanship, proactive engagement, commitment of sufficient government resources and multilateralism. This is the sort of foreign policy an independent middle power could exercise to great results. Instead of mere followership of decisions made in Washington, Ottawa should exercise independent agency and focus on policy innovation.

Canada as a middle power has clear limits to what it can accomplish, but it nevertheless has the power to affect policy outcomes in partnership with other middle powers if Ottawa choose to do so. In other words, Ottawa will have to refrain from taking sides, and will have to encourage Beijing and Washington to engage in constructive and creative diplomacy.

This, theoretically, is the true hallmark of middle power behaviour. A coherent Asia strategy will not come rapidly or on the cheap, but promises much economic and political dividend down the road. Canada must first comprehend the importance of Asian markets and how they are tied to the future prosperity, and national security, of the nation. Simultaneously, Canada has to realise it is not a key player in the region and will never be unless it significantly steps up its commitments and allocation of resources.

As a middle power, Canada competes for the attention of Asian governments with a long list of countries of larger populations and greater economic importance overall. This strategy should not simply pay lip service to the importance of emerging markets like the current Global Markets Action Plan GMAP , but formulate a clear policy with actionable goals to help Canada become a prosperous trading nation and ease its overreliance on imports.

Canadians will also need to be educated about Asia.

Ronald M. Behringer (Author of The Human Security Agenda)

Unfortunately, this approach critically falls short of what is needed: a country-wide effort led by Ottawa. The Canadian government should create an education ministry to coordinate the effort between provinces to increase the bilateral flow of 52 students in and out of Canada.

While knowledge of an Asian language should not necessarily be required, it should be encouraged early on, as language is a gateway to cultural understanding and success in a foreign environment; fluency in just English or French will no longer cut it in China or the rest of Asia. The federal government must show vision and demonstrate that it can be imaginative and forward-thinking in regards to its China policy. The easiest step to take would be to draft and publish a white paper on Asia akin to what was done by Australia a few years ago.

This policy paper should be multigenerational and set the course of Canada-Asia relations for the decades to come. In fact, it could be updated every few years, like Chinese Five-Year Plans. Canadian politicians should show some leadership domestically to recognize the changing geopolitical dynamics of power in the world. Managing foreign affairs is too important to be left as an electoral issue and should remain on top of the agenda of any elected government regardless of political ideology.

New mechanisms for engagement should be created, and not just at the highest levels.

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Junior government staff should be exposed to Asia-related files early on in their careers since relationships with states like China need to be nurtured over time, managed carefully, and predictably. Indeed, these ministries and agencies currently lack the human capital to understand the changes taking place in the Asia-Pacific.

Most of them never lived or studied in Asia prior to their posting. The effectiveness of diplomatic staff is severely inhibited due to the allocation process of personnel without Asia-specific expertise. Under the current assignment system, diplomats are not encouraged to acquire specialised knowledge in a particular region since they are likely to never be posted again to the same mission.

Finally, military-to-military relations between Canada-China are relatively inexistent, or at the very least do not go beyond what is expected of a middle power. It would be a giant leap of faith to believe Canada and China could develop a close military partnership anytime soon. Nevertheless, the two countries could improve the relationship by forging ties between the two militaries, promoting confidence-building measures, and increasing transparency, information exchange, and military exchanges. Additionally, both parties can engage in more active Mulroney In addition, China would most likely be interested to learn about Canadian peacekeeping and counter-terrorism experience, at home and abroad.

Instead of simply having Canadian defence ministers attend regional security dialogues, the Canadian Armed Forces CAF should encourage two-way military-to-military exchange programs with regional militaries including China and middle powers. Taken together, all of those suggestions would reinforce Canada's position as a middle power, because it would clearly demonstrate that Ottawa has the ambition and intention to be a constructive player in the region. It would send clear signals to Beijing and other capitals that Canada wants to be a part of the emerging regional order.

Unfortunately, I acknowledge that some of those solutions are currently impractical in the current political context. As long as the Conservatives remain in power, there is little reason to believe that Canada will upgrade its presence in Asia. The bottom line is that Canada can be middle power again. While Ottawa has limited capacity to exert influence in the Asia-Pacific region alone when compared to the US, it can still punch above its weight and remain a key player if it invests more resources into developing capacity in pivotal areas like finance, trade, diplomacy and military.

The process of developing better and deeper ties with the Asia-Pacific takes time, and policy coordination with domestic and foreign actors, and will require significant investments in terms of financial resources.