Canada should think more about the “Indo-Pacific strategy” when trying to figure out how to deal with China, say two China watchers.
It might be the most effective way for a middle power like Canada to counter China’s overwhelming power advantage.
“Put in preventive measures, especially where we find ourselves in geopolitical conflicts,” Ai-Men Lau of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute said in a webinar hosted by the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy.
The Indo-Pacific region is the area that spreads from the Indian ocean to the Pacific. China is by far the area’s biggest nation, but the region teems with other nations that have similar problems as Canada in dealing with a belligerent China.
By deepening relationships among “like-minded” middle powers, Canada can broaden its collection of friends and trading partners and insulate itself against some of the insecurity that comes from interacting with China.
Canada is already a member of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade bloc designed to allow Pacific Rim nations to trade on a basis of rules. Deepening other trading relations would strengthen Canada’s ability to withstand the power of giant nations.
“Work with like-minded allies,” said Lau.
China’s incredible economic growth over the past 20 years has led to a period in which China has become aggressive in both asserting its own power and trying to damage other nations with which it is unhappy, like Canada.
While China’s behaviour is fuelled by a communist-nationalist narrative focused on wrongs said to have been done to China and the need for China to return to its rightful place as a world power, it has also created widespread alarm among its neighbours and in many countries around the world.
Canada has little ability to independently push China into different behaviour, but it can better protect itself, said Robert Falconer, an immigration and refugee specialist with the University of Calgary.
During the Cold War, Canada used its refugee system to bring in opponents of Soviet communism. Those people helped Canada with intelligence, connections and image.
“Asylum is actually a robust part of our foreign policy,” said Falconer.
Canada has created special programs to accept refugees from Chechnya and Iran, and it could do the same for Hong Kong and mainland China.
“There is a very recent precedent,” said Falconer.
Canada could also loosen family reunification rules to allow in more Hong Kong and Chinese people, provide emergency visas, and make it easier for young professionals and students to immigrate to Canada.
Canada should also develop a registry for Canadians who get paid for lobbying for foreign countries. China’s agents in Canada need to be known.
Lau, a Hong Kong-Canadian, was pessimistic about the fate of Hong Kong under increasing communist government control, and skeptical of the ability of Canadians to do business with China without facing grave risks.
The National Security Law imposed on Hong Kong essentially suspends Hong Kong’s rule-of-law, which has allowed western companies to operate safely there.
It also makes it a crime to do or say things that could offend the Beijing government.
Much recent attention has focused on China’s increasing pressure against Hong Kong independence, but Lau said the writing has been on the wall for years. Not only has the former British colony faced direct actions, but Tibet and Xinjiang’s Uyghur population have faced growing pressure from Beijing’s power.
With China’s actions against Canadian trade and its use of hostage diplomacy, Canada sorely needs a new strategy for dealing with the emerging Asian superpower.
“There are lessons that we should learn from if we are to move forward with a principled, realistic, concrete approach to the challenges posed by China to us,” said Lau.