Trudeau seeks closer ties in Asia-Pa­cific

Medicine Hat News - - FRONT PAGE -

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.”

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