Canada Urged to Join Allies in Tougher China Stance After Kovrig, Spavor Release

The aftermath of the long fight between Canada and China over the imprisonment of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig has spawned a new challenge: whether to join allies such as the United States and Australia in taking a more confrontational stance toward China.

Some analysts saw hints of a potentially tougher approach in what appeared to be a throwaway line in a congratulatory note that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sent to his new Japanese counterpart, Fumio Kishida, this past week.

Mr. Trudeau twice used the label “Indo-Pacific” to stress the importance of co-operating with Japan on shared regional interests.

For some observers, that was a signal that Canada was moving toward a tougher posture in future relations with China.

Paul Evans, a China expert at the University of British Columbia, said the use of that label — Indo-Pacific — denoted a subtle but distinct shift in how Canada traditionally viewed the region.

Canada has traditionally referred to the vast geopolitical entity on the other side of the Pacific Ocean as the “Asia Pacific,” a label that Mr. Evans said clearly included China as well as its many regional neighbours, while “Indo-Pacific” is a shorthand that is meant to exclude China.

 “This may sound just like words, but there’s a very serious difference,” said Mr. Evans.

“The phrase Indo-Pacific draws us into this strategic moment of great power rivalry. Indo-Pacific is fundamentally about China’s rise and responses to it.”

Moving forward, Mr. Evans expects to see Canada adopt a “softer version” of the label, one that means “sometimes countering China, often co-operating with China on economic and other matters. So, it’s a softer, more inclusive version.”

The quote Mr. Trudeau’s office released in his statement on Kishida’s swearing-in appeared to reflect that.

“Together, we will advance our shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific and take ambitious action in the fight against climate change,” Mr. Trudeau said in the written statement. “As we continue to address the global impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, we will work to promote greater prosperity for people in Canada and Japan and throughout the Indo-Pacific region.”


This post is also available in: English

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