Canada has a strategic interest in developing an Indo-Pacific policy that aims to enhance Canadian engagement with states in the Indo-Pacific region from a holistic perspective, and one that emphasizes shared values, norms, and interests. Strengthening Philippines-Canada ties would be an essential part of a Canadian Indo-Pacific strategy that is anchored on building up various minilateral, as well as bilateral relationships, complementing the existing multilateral mechanisms in the region.
“Why should Canada be interested in the Indo-Pacific region? Why do the states in the region need Canada?”
These are the two fundamental questions that should guide Canadian policymakers in the crafting of a strategic framework for the Indo-Pacific, according to Mr. Jonathan Berkshire Miller, during the Foreign Service Institute’s (FSI’s) online Mabini Dialogue held on 13 May 2021. Mr. Miller is Senior Fellow from the Ottawa-based Macdonald-Laurier Institute.
FSI, in partnership with the Embassy of the Philippines in Ottawa, Canada, organized the Dialogue with the theme, “Canada and the Indo-Pacific.
Mr. Miller presented his insights on the Indo-Pacific initiative and Canada’s possible response and role, stressing that Canadian engagement in the Indo-Pacific makes sense from a strategic perspective.
According to Mr. Miller, shared interests and shared values will be essential in this engagement, especially given the present circumstances brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. He noted that in recent years, Canada has shown increasing interest in the region—going beyond economics (trade and investment) and expanding into broader issues of security and defense.
Dr. Aaron Jed Rabena, a research fellow at the Asia Pacific Pathways to Progress Foundation, Inc., discussant in the Dialogue, provided a comprehensive analysis of the interests of various stakeholders in the Indo-Pacific concept. He noted certain factors that can make Canada influence the actions of state and non-state actors in the region, among which are the maintenance of a rules-based international order and the development of bilateral relations with regional powers.
The open forum focused on the involvement of other multilateral actors—the Quad and the ASEAN, for instance—in enhancing Canadian engagement in the Indo-Pacific. While the Quad may have increasing relevance in the region, both Mr. Miller and Dr. Rabena encouraged a Canadian Indo-Pacific strategy that is not necessarily dependent on traditional Canadian allies or the Quad. Both speakers also recommended increased Canadian engagement with ASEAN-led mechanisms, ASEAN member states, and other ASEAN partners. An enhanced bilateral relationship between the Philippines and Canada should form part of this Canadian strategy.
Mr. Miller and Dr. Rabena concluded the discussion by emphasizing the importance of shared values in addressing challenges in the region as key to heightened engagement between Canada and the Indo-Pacific.
The Mabini Dialogue was attended by officers and staff from the Department of Foreign Affairs, FSI, foreign service posts, as well as representatives of other government agencies.