While Canada's engagement in Asia has been uncertain since
the late 1990s, things seem to be back on track. Ottawa is once
again showing leadership. The just concluded free trade agreement
with South Korea is a case in point. Other negotiations are
underway, such as with Japan, and trade missions and businesses are
travelling to Asia in unprecedented numbers.
Despite this revival of activity, there has been relatively less
attention paid to the security dimension and the complex forces
making East Asia less stable than it has been over much of the past
30 years. They include the rise of China, growing instability on
the Korean peninsula, resurgent nationalism, border and maritime
boundary disputes, nuclear proliferation, and a rash of new
security challenges such as cyberterrorism, human and drug
trafficking, and food security.
Indeed, among Asia experts, gloomy assessments are the order of
the day, driven by security tensions and political risks, including
maritime sovereignty issues and the grittiness of relations between
the US and a rising China.
Over the past two decades the economic and security dimensions
in the region have complemented each other well: economic progress
in East Asia particularly has contributed to a more secure region.
This greater security has given economic ties a chance to thrive.
Nowadays, however, economic and security trajectories seem to be on
a collision course.
That is the conclusion of a just published joint study by
Canada's Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI)
and the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI). The study
warns of the factors contributing to enhanced tension in the Asia
Pacific, and calls for increased co-operation between Australia and
Canada as a way to effectively reduce those tensions while
protecting the significant economic stakes each country has in the
While the need for a focus on security in the Asia Pacific is a
obvious for Australians, it is a much harder sell on this side of
While Canada has a choice in becoming more engaged in Asian
security, it is a false one. We have economic interests to protect,
as well as the security of Canadians. And in Asia, long-term trade
and investment partners are expected to do more than just take the
money and run.
For Canada, the way that Australia has engaged in its region
— admittedly from necessity — provides striking
examples of what can be done to demonstrate commitment and make a
difference. And working together, as the CIGI-ASPI Report
recommends, means we can have a greater impact together than
working alone — while realizing a better return for taxpayer
dollars in the process.
The areas of potential co-operation are many, and can build upon
some recent steps taken by the Harper government.
The CIGI-ASPI study's 20-plus recommendations provide a rich
range of possibilities, from a greater sharing of information and
assessments, to working together to build trust among protagonists
and reduce the chances of conflict, to joint planning and
operations in areas of disaster relief and humanitarian assistance,
building cyber resilience, and combating human trafficking.
On the major geopolitical challenge facing the region —
that of the evolving U.S.-China relationship — Canada and
Australia can work together to help ensure that regional security
issues are managed to reduce the chance that they become focal
points for U.S.-China confrontations. We can co-ordinate our
messages in Beijing and Washington and undertake initiatives that
build trust and lead to positive behaviours.
While some of the recommendations, such as greater participation
in multilateral military exercises and enhancing our naval presence
in the region, have significant cost implications, many of the
steps in the report are less costly.
Ultimately, there needs to be a realignment of resources from
Canada's traditional Atlantic-Europe security bias to this new
and necessary Asia-Pacific priority. But this will take time, which
we do not have.
The benefits in favour of working together with Australia are
compelling, especially in the increasingly troubling security
environment. Perhaps the close relationship that has now developed
between Prime Minister Harper and the new Australian Prime
Minister, Tony Abbott, who will meet later this year will provide
the catalyst for moving forward.
This article originally appeared in the National Post. Republished with
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