Trudeau seeks closer ties in Asia-Pacific
MANILA, Philippines Justin Trudeau landed in the Philippines on Sunday with the goal of raising Canada’s profile in the Asia-Pacific region, especially on security issues and trade.
This week, Trudeau will become the first sitting Canadian prime minister to participate in the annual East Asia Summit and is the only one who’s ever been invited, his office said.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said Sunday, after she and Trudeau arrived in Manila, that the East Asia Summit will give him a chair at the top security table in the region.
He will sit alongside Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump during discussions on the security situation involving North Korea, she said.
“That is a really big deal,” Freeland said of the forum, which is held in conjunction with the annual summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. “Canada has never been there before.” The ASEAN summit itself will give Trudeau an opportunity to advance his trade agenda with the emerging bloc of 10 Southeast Asian countries, which is already Canada’s sixth-largest trading partner.
Combined, the countries boast a market of 640 million people and an expanding middle class. They have been churning out significant economic growth.
With the uncertainty surrounding Canada’s NAFTA renegotiation, the AsiaPacific has become increasingly important in the government’s eyes.
Ottawa has been taking steps to increase its presence in the region. In September, the federal government opened exploratory free-trade talks with ASEAN and last year it named an ambassador for the region.
“We are very much positioning ourselves in the Asia-Pacific,” International Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said in an interview before Trudeau left for his week-long trip to the region.
Experts, however, say Ottawa has largely failed in the past to maintain a consistent connection with ASEAN members.
David Mulroney, a former Canadian ambassador to China, believes forging closer relations with ASEAN should be Ottawa’s second-most important priority in the region after Beijing.
Canada, however, has struggled to maintain a disciplined focus on the region and hasn’t been as plugged in with ASEAN as Australia or even the United States, Mulroney added.
“When we’re at our best, we are a very popular partner in ASEAN,” said Mulroney, who noted that members of the group still recall a time when Canada was more deeply engaged with them, decades ago.
“We haven’t given them reason to believe that it's anything other than nostalgia, but I think Canada could be a very capable player in the region.”