Canada is formulating a fresh Indo-Pacific policy that will not only reflect its recent rift with China but may be more in consonance with the objectives of India in the region.
The indication of this potential switch came as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke to his newly-appointed Japanese counterpart Suga Yoshihide. A readout of the conversation used language that has become central to that applied by the Quad nations- India, Japan, Australia and the United States – as it said they wanted the two nations to “promote a free and open Indo-Pacific region.”
That free-and-open formulation, known as FOIP, has been used as shorthand for containment of an increasingly aggressive China in the region. That symbolic phrasing comes as Canada is looking at issuing a new Indo-Pacific policy in the weeks ahead. According to a report in the Toronto Star recently, Global Affairs Canada has been working on the revised policy since November last year. The daily, National Post, stated Canada is “getting set to launch a new tougher approach to dealing with Beijing” and has been in the making since the appointment of François-Philippe Champagne as Foreign Minister in 2019.
Indian officials did not comment on this matter but pointed to an increase in official communication between New Delhi and Ottawa in recent times, including discussions between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Trudeau.
The Trudeau administration may also be acting to reflect public mood in Canada, which has turned largely against China. According to a poll in late June from the Angus Reid Institute (ARI), 81% of respondents “feel that they should boycott goods made in China to send a message”, while 91% considered the state of affairs between the two nations “serious”. Similarly, 93% felt that “China cannot be trusted to uphold human rights.”
Significantly, a Canadian warship sailed from the South China Sea into the Taiwan Strait this week in a move that could rile Beijing as China has become more belligerent in the area.
Relations between Ottawa and Beijing have nosedived since the arrest of a senior executive of the Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei in Vancouver in late 2018. Meng Wanzhou continues to face trial that could lead to her extradition to the US. In retaliation, China arrested two Canadians, including a former diplomat, actions the Canadian government described as “hostage diplomacy.”