PM to pur­sue deeper ties in Manila

Trudeau seeks stronger trade, se­cu­rity ties in Asia-Pa­cific

Northern News (Kirkland Lake) - - NATIONAL NEWS - ANDY BLATCHFORD

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 Asia-Pa­cific 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.”

He said ASEAN main­tains tighter di­a­logue part­ner­ships with other coun­tries out­side the re­gion, like Rus­sia, the U.S. and Aus­tralia.

“We have yet to kind of crack that in­ner cir­cle, in part be­cause there are doubts about our com­mit­ment and our stay­ing power,” Mul­roney said.

For­mer Que­bec premier Jean Charest, now the honorary chair of the Canada-ASEAN Busi­ness Coun­cil, said in a re­cent in­ter­view that Trump’s pro­tec­tion­ist story makes the case ev­ery day on the im­por­tance of di­ver­si­fy­ing.

Com­pared to China, Charest said ASEAN is a less-com­plex part­ner to work with.

“Cana­di­ans will have more reser­va­tions about China, which doesn’t mean that we should not pur­sue an ini­tia­tive with China, but it’s just po­lit­i­cally more com­pli­cated,” he said.

In mov­ing closer to ASEAN, Ot­tawa would still have to nav­i­gate the del­i­cate is­sue of hu­man rights — par­tic­u­larly amid con­cerns about se­ri­ous, state-led vi­o­lence by two of its mem­bers: Myan­mar and the Philip­pines.

On Satur­day, Trudeau was asked whether he in­tended to chal­lenge Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte about the deadly, an­tidrug crack­down by se­cu­rity forces in his coun­try. The cam­paign has killed thou­sands of sus­pects, most of whom are poor.

Trudeau has said he has no oneon-one meet­ing planned with Duterte, who will host the ASEAN sum­mit.

“There are a range of is­sues that I could bring up with him, that I may bring up with him, if we have an op­por­tu­nity,” Trudeau told re­porters Satur­day in Danang, Viet­nam.

“There’s al­ways hu­man rights con­cerns to bring up with a wide range of lead­ers.”

On Sun­day, Free­land said Canada has “some se­ri­ous con­cerns about hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions and vi­o­la­tions of due process in the Philip­pines.”

“If we get the op­por­tu­nity, we will talk about these is­sues,” said Free­land, who added that she raised them in a meet­ing last sum­mer with the Philip­pines’ deputy min­is­ter of for­eign af­fairs.

David Welch, CIGI chair of global se­cu­rity at the Bal­sil­lie School of In­ter­na­tional Af­fairs, said ASEAN coun­tries likely wouldn’t ap­pre­ci­ate Canada pres­sur­ing them on these is­sues, which could put Trudeau in an awk­ward po­si­tion as he tries to deepen the re­la­tion­ship.

“They don’t want us to talk about hu­man rights,” Welch said.

The ASEAN bloc in­cludes the Philip­pines, In­done­sia, Brunei, Sin­ga­pore, Malaysia, Thai­land, Viet­nam, Laos, Cam­bo­dia and Myan­mar.

Trudeau’s visit to Manila is the last stop in his week-long trip to the re­gion, which in­cluded an of­fi­cial bi­lat­eral visit with Viet­nam and the APEC lead­ers’ sum­mit.

TED ALJIBE/GETTY IM­AGES

Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau holds a baby dur­ing a visit at a non-gov­ern­ment women’s health ad­vo­cacy group called Likhaan, be­fore at­tend­ing the 31st As­so­ci­a­tion of South East Asian Na­tions (ASEAN) Sum­mit, in Manila on Sun­day.

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