Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy: From UN Peacekeeper to US Sentinel State
In a recent article in the Ottawa Hill-Times, journalist David Crane asked an important question: “Is Canada trying to match or outdo American hostility to China?”
Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy (CIPS), announced in Vancouver recently by Liberal foreign affairs minister Mélanie Joly and other ministers, answers that question unequivocally: “China is an increasingly disruptive global power” begins the CIPS assessment of China. True enough if taken in isolation. Insidious, however, in the way it is used in this report.
“We are not just going to engage the Indo-Pacific, we are going to lead,” stated Joly in her opening remarks. In this case, leadership seems to imply being tougher on China than anyone else. In its two-page assessment, the CIPS lists a litany of China’s alleged misdeeds and that, it would seem, is all there is to say. Not a word about its impressive economic achievements; nor that China is Canada’s second largest trading partner; nor about lifting 800 million people out of poverty, as recognized by the UN; not a peep about its development of solar power generation, documented in a Lancet study. Frankly, any teacher would be compelled to give a failing grade to the Canadian government’s assessment of China because of the obvious bias.
Attitude Toward China
“We will challenge China whenever necessary, and cooperate if we must,” is the government’s new mantra. Frankly, the CIPS is an embarrassment, a strident polemic, not diplomacy. If implemented it will definitively end any possibility of substantive Canada-China cooperation on the environment, an imperative in the face of the global climate emergency. It also increases the possibility of war and the use of nuclear weapons, the other existential crisis of this era.
In terms of concrete actions, the CIPS charts two main priorities – increase funding to Canada’s military/spy agencies, and provide a large infusion of cash to finance infrastructure projects in the region.
A closer examination of the fine print shows the five-year military/spy funds (what the government euphemistically terms “Promoting Peace, Resilience and Security,” includes:
- nearly $500-million to increase the Canadian military’s presence in the region;
- and more than $227-million for Canada’s to bolster national security agencies (including CSIS, CSE, RCMP, and CBSA).
Compared to some of the military powers in the region, this is a small amount, but its significance lies elsewhere. It signals that Canada’s first priority in Asia is to bolster its military and spy network to confront China. Peacekeeping under the aegis of the UN is not even an afterthought. Also distressing is the distorting nod to feminist foreign policy, allocating funds for a “regional Women, Peace, and Security initiative” in the hope of securing social license for its agenda.
On the trade and investment front, the biggest single allocation of funds is a three-year injection of $750-million to FinDev Canada, (Canada’s development finance institution) to help develop “high-quality, sustainable infrastructure” in the region. The mandate of FinDev is not providing governmental assistance directly but rather “supporting the private sector in developing markets to promote sustainable development.” In addition, these funds are to be channeled not through existing financial bodies in Asia but through the new US-led G7 “Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment.” a parallel initiative dominated by the US. Frankly, this is a move sponsored by the US and Canada to bring another institution from outside the region to discredit and bypass China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
In a similar vein, Canada’s trade strategy does not build on existing networks in the region but tries to bypass them. For example, it could have come in and supported the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), that includes 15 East Asian and Pacific nations of different economic sizes and stages of development including China; or the Asia-Pacific Trade Agreement (APTA), formerly known as the Bangkok Agreement that has been operating for nearly 50 years. But no, like its financial initiative, it wants to join another parallel initiative, the US-sponsored Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity, and/or reinforce the CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership), a regional grouping originally sponsored by the US that excludes China.
A New Sentinel in a Global Empire
Has China become a major power and is it throwing its weight around in the region at times? Yes.
Is publicly accusing it of being disruptive and bulking up for a military confrontation the way to deal with it? Only if you’re aiming for war.
Preceding the release of the CIPS, specialists in Asia Pacific affairs gathered in two conferences in Ottawa, HardTalk: Canada and the Asia Pacific and the East Asia Strategy Forum 2022. Almost all of the invited speakers, regardless of political stripe, were clear – a policy based on containing China or trying to isolate it was wrong and counterproductive. That advice has been ignored. Furthermore, early drafts of the new strategy prepared by Global Affairs Canada (GAC) were unacceptable according to minister Joly. Then, who were Joly and the cross-departmental group that finalized the strategy listening to, if not from specialists with extensive experience in the region or from GAC?
There are hints in the CIPS itself. It repeatedly asserts it is not “engaging” in the Indo-Pacific alone but is doing so with its closest allies including “the United States, the European Union, Germany, France and the United Kingdom.” The CIPS in fact represents a global strategy emanating from the US. When Trudeau and Biden met in Washington in early 2021, they announced the “Roadmap for a Renewed US-Canada Partnership” that included working “to more closely align our approaches to China…” and reinforcing their commitment to NATO and “the Five Eyes community.”
Indeed, while the CIPS was being developed, NATO representatives gathered in Madrid in June where they adopted a new ‘Strategic Concept’ that they believe made “far reaching decisions to transform NATO.” Though intended initially as a military alliance for Europe directed against the Soviet Union (with US and Canadian participation), it has expanded continuously, and is now based on what it calls a “360-degree approach.” In other words, the whole world is now its purview. Not only will it confront Russia, it will confront terrorism wherever it needs to, it will deal with “conflict, fragility, and instability in Africa and the Middle East,” and, most crucially, address the “systemic challenges posed by the PRC to Euro-Atlantic security and ensure NATO’s enduring ability to guarantee the defence and security of Allies.” Indo-Pacific partners Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and the Republic of Korea participated together in a NATO Summit for the first time.
The Empire doesn’t rest. The stakes are too high.
Far from being a made-in-Canada plan, the CIPS seems to be one spoke in the wheel of a global plan directed by the United States. Herein lies the great folly of the illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine. It has allowed NATO to assume the mantle of righteousness, rendering the US into only one of a large coalition defending Ukrainian sovereignty. Both NATO and the CIPS center “the rules-based international order.” But missing from both is the “UN-based international order.” No accident.
The UN-based international order is enshrined in the UN Charter, the foundation of modern international law. The Charter bans “the threat or use of force to” to resolve conflict with few exceptions. It also demands the UN Security Council and other UN-supported institutions set the rules. This is unacceptable to NATO and to the CIPS. They want to set the rules and use their militaries to enforce them. Canada, with its new strategy, is in fact turning its back on the UN.
The world has no desire to be under the thumb of empires. If that is China’s ambition it will fail. But as we monitor China, we should be ready to understand the history of the present. In that regard the CIPS is miserably deficient.
In the run-up to the release of the CIPS, foreign minister Mélanie Joly provided a preview in a major speech at the University of Toronto. In the Q&A session afterwards, she claimed the “rules-based international norms” established in Asia maintained “peace and stability since the Second World War.” In effect, she is suggested that we forget:
- the three million who died in the Korean War
- the additional three million who died in Vietnam
- the one million who died in Indonesia in 1965 after the US-engineered coup
- the Okinawans who were dispossessed by the US military and continue to fight to this day to get rid of the huge US bases on their islands
- the thousands of Pacific Islanders who saw their islands seized and used for nuclear testing by the US, to now have them inundated by rising sea levels as a result of global warming for which both Canada and the US are historically responsible.
Joly’s view of history can only be described as Eurocentric and a complete failure to recognize the elephant in the room – the existence of an empire formed over the past 175 years, beginning with Admiral Perry first forcing unequal treaties on Japan with his gunboat diplomacy. Today, the US maintains its empire with force.
According to the recently renamed US. Indo-Pacific Command, its forces include “375,000 US military and civilian personnel including the US Pacific Fleet of approximately 200 ships (including five aircraft carrier strike groups), nearly 1,100 aircraft, and more than 130,000 sailors and civilians; Marine Corps Forces, Pacific with two Marine Expeditionary Forces and about 86,000 personnel and 640 aircraft; US Pacific Air Forces comprises of approximately 46,000 airmen and civilians and more than 420 aircraft; US Army Pacific has approximately 106,000 personnel, plus over 300 aircraft and five watercraft; more than 1,200 Special Operations personnel; Department of Defense civilian employees in the Indo-Pacific Command AOR number about 38,000.”
Much of this is arrayed against China and has been for over seventy years. The US is continually realigning the empire’s profile. Recently this has included:
- the signing of AUKUS (Australia/UK/US), a trilateral military pact for Australia to build nuclear-powered submarines to deploy against China. The deal caused a furor as it involved Australia tearing up a multi-billion-dollar contract with France;
- reinforcing the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (the Quad), a militarized alliance that includes the US, Australia, India, and Japan to confront China in the Asia Pacific;
- the CIA establishing a new “China Mission Center” to take on what the agency’s director, William Burns, described as “the most important geopolitical threat we face in the 21st Century, an increasing adversarial Chinese government.”
The Empire doesn’t rest. Nor does the resistance. The Global South is refusing to follow NATO in its sanctions against Russia, including many countries in Asia, India in particular. The US and its main allies are desperate to shore up support.
That is why foreign minister Joly and the CIPS erase the elephant in the room and demand instead that we worry about China. Peoples in Asia and the Pacific are capably and actively dealing with China. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), for example, has been dealing with China on its own terms. They have convened meetings of the ASEAN+3 (ASEAN plus China, Japan, and South Korea) group, the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), and various trade agreements. But rather than reinforce these regional initiatives, Joly and the CIPS sets out not to support Asia, but to impose an Anglo-American parallel agenda, an effective roadblock against regional integration. In its Eurocentricity, the Anglo-American alliance fears an “Asia for the Asians.” What we get instead is a plan to reinforce an Anglo-American empire in the maternalistic/paternalist guise of rescuing ‘Asia’ from China.
Of course, the US Empire in the Asia Pacific did not come into existence by itself. It first arose as part of an Anglo-American alliance fashioned out of the British empire and its settler colonial offshoots – the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. These latter four states, founded through the genocidal elimination of Indigenous peoples to provide land for white settlers and corporations, together with their decrepit mothership, the UK, remain tied together in the so-called “Five Eyes.” As Edward Snowden so bravely revealed, the US NSA and the Five Eyes spy alliance today represents the largest and most sinister spy network in the history of the world. And now Canada wants to reinforce it, including posting more spies in Asia.
The respected Australian analyst, Clinton Fernandes, recently wrote Subimperial Power: Australia in the International Arena. In it, he suggests that Australia has become increasingly dependent on the US economically and otherwise. In joining the Quad and AUKUS recently, it is refashioning itself into what he calls a ‘sentinel state’ – joining countries such as South Korea and Japan that are closely tied to the US national security state.
Canada, it would seem, is aspiring to become another US sentinel state in the Asia Pacific.
The Impact on Asian North Americans
The intensifying demonization of China seen in the CIPS and US global policy will only further exacerbate racist attacks on those racialized as Asian in North America.
In Canada and the US, the anti-China campaign has given rise to a dramatic rise in anti-Asian racism. The initial tide arose with Trump and his association of the COVID-19 pandemic with China, spurring a huge increase in hate crimes against Asians, or those perceived as ‘Asian.’ In the US, this culminated in the horrific murder of eight people in spas in Atlanta, six of whom were Asian women.
The US department of justice under Donald Trump also began the China Initiative, a campaign to prosecute scientists in the US allegedly spying for China. This led to charges against dozens of scientists, mainly of Chinese descent. According to World University News, “none have been convicted for economic espionage, or theft of trade secrets, or intellectual property.” According to a study by the University of Arizona’s Jenny J. Lee, Xiaojie Li and the staff at Committee of 100, the China Initiative was a clear case of racial profiling and had a chilling effect not only on scientific endeavours but also on Asian American communities at large. More must be done by universities, they state, to combat institutional racism that is inflamed by anti-China rhetoric.
Organized resistance to the program, by those accused and by groups such as the Asian Pacific American Justice Task Force (APA Justice), the Brennan Center for Justice, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice, resulted in the Biden administration cancelling the program in February 2022 though profiling of Chinese American scientists still continue.
In Canada as well, racism directed against those seen as Chinese or Asian exploded during the COVID-19 pandemic. A strong anti-racism movement coalesced as part of the anti-racist uprising of 2020, which helped to push back aggression against racialized communities. Still, racist attacks on Chinatowns continue, against those who dissent from one-sided assessments of China, and most severely, against Chinese Canadian scientists.
In a recent study, Dr. Xiaobei Chen of Carleton University has made the case that “despite state multiculturalism, foreign policy making can function as an institutional conduit for reproducing systemic racism, which not only exacerbates social divisions but also prevents a form of intercultural understanding in which individuals truly see one another.”
Unlike in the United States where there was a concerted effort to stop the China Initiative, in Canada the situation is less clear. Many people in racialized communities hesitate to speak out on foreign policy out of fear they will be accused of being spies for China or, alternatively, come under pressure from nationalists.
Canada’s spy agencies have come to the fore in this recent period: CSIS, responsible for analysis and operations, and the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), responsible for information collection. A recent report illustrates how the COVID-19 pandemic created “a pivotal moment” for CSIS, and so today they aggressively assert: “Spies are no longer wearing trench coats, they’re wearing lab coats.” The agency has created new programs including “Academic Outreach and Stakeholder Engagement” and taken to social media, establishing YouTube channels, and offering support against certain cybercrimes, all the while spreading fear of “foreign actors” – a term that apparently does not include the United States.
For over a year now, the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada has been imposing compulsory CSIS self-screening by all Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Alliance grant applicants. This interference in research was developed by CSIS in collaboration with major research institutions including the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the National Research Council, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the U15 Group of Canadian Research Universities, Universities Canada, and Vice-Presidents of Research.
Resistance is continuing but so far Canadian institutions, academic or otherwise, have failed to speak out publicly in support of those facing persecution. It seems we still have not learned from the lessons of the Japanese Canadian/American uprooting and internment. Racialized groups are extremely vulnerable to changing foreign policies.
A strange disconnect seems to exist between the local and global.
In both Canada and the United States, powerful movements of resistance have arisen to contest domination and oppression. In the former, Indigenous resurgence in the past decade (Idle No More, Attawapiskat, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Children, recognition of the Indigenous children buried in unmarked graves, repatriating social programs, Wet’suwet’en landback, and much more) continues to have huge impacts. The 2020 anti-racist uprising and environmental justice movements are having major reverberations throughout Canada, as is the movement for LGBQT2S+ rights.
In the United States, Black Lives Matter, the #MeToo movement, defense of abortion rights, environmental justice and the fight for Asian American and Latinx rights, as well as voting rights have brought millions into social action.
Yet on the international front, with few exceptions, the movement against the American empire is weaker than in the past. This weakness can be attributed to the capacity of the liberal state to both distort and deflect, to manufacture consent that allows the state to exercise control over international affairs. Thus, the invasion and war lost in Afghanistan is distorted to be a just ‘war against terror’ or to liberate the women of Afghanistan; once lost, it becomes a war to save the Afghanis who collaborated with the US and its allies. Or, in the just war of resistance against the Russian invasion of the Ukraine, performance distorts matters so that NATO responsibility in provoking the war is considered unjustifiable dissent, even treasonous.
In regard to deflection, the China bogeyman performs this role in the Asia Pacific, the latest in an endless march of enemies justifying the never-ending wars waged by the American military, with an ever-evolving assortment of allies. Herein lies the real danger today. On the one hand, the current campaign tells a partial truth about China, its illiberal nature and human rights abuses, reinforced by continual racist stereotyping that draws on a long history of anti-Asian racism in both Canada and the United States.
Much remains to be done. •
This article first published on the Rabble website.