By Jasbir Sandhu
Jasbir Sandhu MP Surrey North Official opposition critic for the asia-pacific gateway
The Asia Pacific region has emerged as a dynamic and critical new power centre in the world. The challenge for Canada is whether we can engage credibly with Asian counterparts on shared goals and build partnerships that will help create a new century of Canadian prosperity. Right now, we are failing – and we shouldn’t be.
Canada is well-positioned to succeed in the “Pacific century”. Canada is a Pacific country, and our economy produces the technology, resources, skills and expertise that are in demand throughout Asia. Decades of immigration have provided Canadians with deep knowledge and strong Asia-Pacific connections, and our history of development assistance has reinforced our people-to-people presence in many core countries of the region. With clear and consistent engagement, these assets and linkages could be leveraged to help to re-orient Canada away from an over-dependence on the United States, and pay great dividends for future generations of Canadians.
But the Conservative government has been erratic and inconsistent in its approach to the region, and has failed to secure meaningful results. The Conservatives were very late to engage with Asia, and have since caused offense and confusion.
Instead of establishing clear guidelines and criteria for the kind of investment Canada will accept, Conservatives have kept Asian investors guessing with a confusing and opaque approach to approving or rejecting investments. After years of secret negotiations on an investment treaty with China, Conservatives are now left in the embarrassing position of having signed a flawed agreement they cannot ratify.
The Government also likes to talk trade, but they have closed key consulates in Japan and hiked tariffs on imports from many countries in the region – imports Canadian consumers and small businesses depend on. The Conservatives have also wasted time and resources pursuing trade agreements with a range of countries that do not offer us significant market opportunities, while negotiations with major partners, like India and Japan, have foundered. These are democratic countries that share Canada’s commitment to the rule of law, and are important economies that constitute large, high-value markets for Canadians companies. New Democrats believe that deepening trade relations with these countries could yield real benefits for Canada – but none of these stalled negotiations will go anywhere without a more consistent, focused, multi-level engagement from the Government.
But we are not likely to see more open or balanced engagement in the region under the Conservatives. Their misguided approach is clear in the new foreign policy and trade strategy released in November, which calls for narrowly focusing our international engagement in the service of Canada’s own economic interests. This ideological approach to foreign policy will lock us out of key relationships we need to succeed in the region.
Recently Canada was excluded from the East Asia Summit. Surin Pitsuwan, secretary general of Association of Southeast Asian Nations said we lost our bid for a seat at the summit due to a lack of active engagement. He explained that “the goodwill is there. The name is there. But you don’t see the sustained effort of trying to project it out.”
The Conservatives’ mistake is that they view Asia though a narrow economic lens. They see Asia as merely a collection of ‘emerging’ markets. The truth is that Asia is a vast and diverse locus of power. Asian leaders are looking for real partners that understand their challenges and are ready to engage in strategies for mutual benefit. This does not mean we must always agree, but we must be prepared to understand diverse perspectives and engage with respect and knowledge that comes from building our relationships and presence in the region.
To do that, our engagement must be multilateral and multilevel. An effective international policy would include initiatives that are not designed merely to benefit Canadian companies or our economy. By making Canada a well-respected country and valued friend in Asia, a more enlightened foreign policy would indirectly open more Asian doors for Canadian businesses than the Conservatives have done to date.
The NDP believes that deepening relations with Asia is crucial to creating the next century of Canadian prosperity. We would succeed where Conservatives have failed by pursuing a consistent, focused approach to building relationships with Asian countries at many levels – through commerce, certainly, but also on educational, environmental, humanitarian and cultural fronts. This includes building upon Canadians’ own direct knowledge and connections to Asia, and engaging multilaterally to make Canada a well-respected and valued ally in the region.
New Democrats see the importance of Asia in new multipolar world, and to the future prosperity of our own country. Canadians can count on the NDP to engage Asia with thoughtful and balanced policy to advance the interests of all Canadians.