Our former ambassador at Beijing, David Mulroney (tweets here, is very tough on the Chicoms), has some very good suggestions below but one on defence that I think should be avoided; first on China and India:
This talk was delivered at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute’s annual dinner on February 19, 2020 [video here]
[China:] We’ve been divided as a country. We have a China lobby, one that includes a who’s who of former ministers and mandarins [our compradors], extolling the economic importance of our relationship with Beijing, while a growing number of China sceptics worry that any financial benefits from China tend to be selectively and strategically distributed, and come, ultimately, at the peril of our very autonomy as a nation.
Perhaps most worrying is that the government has appeared to endorse both sides of this debate, although not, fortunately, at the same time. But we’ve seen little evidence of new thinking, little inclination by Ottawa to work out how we deal with a country that is both an important partner and an adversary.
So, while it is timely indeed to consider renewing our foreign policy focus, starting with a broader and less China-centric view of Asia, all of it, and the Pacific, we should first ensure that we’ve internalized the lessons of the past year.
A successful Canadian engagement of the Indo-Pacific region involves a lot more than spinning the globe and tweaking ministerial travel schedules…
[India:] Let’s begin by paying India the respect of seeing it as it is, rather than as it exists in our Canadian imaginations. And let’s be confident enough to understand that while we will agree about many things, we will disagree about others.
Our ability to understand India was eroded during years in which we substituted lectures for dialogue, and during which we viewed India through the very narrow prism of its relationship with Pakistan.
Unfortunately, we’re in danger of replacing an arrogant and aloof approach to India with a cringeworthy kind of neediness that is deservedly being rebuffed by New Delhi.
We should not force the pace of relationship building, but take the time to identify shared objectives. These obviously include trade, education, and science and technology cooperation, but they should also include enhanced defence cooperation and a renewal of dialogue and trust on broader security issues…
Now on defence:
And let’s be absolutely honest here. You can’t aspire to any real status in the Indo-Pacific region without a robust, expeditionary military capability, one that is perceived by our allies to be both credible and beneficial…
With our limited military/naval capabilities we should rather leave the Western Pacific and trying to look after China to South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam and Australia who have lots of capabilities themselves plus all the American ones. Any Canadian effort would be symbolic, ineffectual and wasteful. And not necessary if we can do decent diplomacy and private sector trade–see, e.g., Germany, no question of an Asian military role [this is changing, see from March 2021: “State Department has applauded Germany’s plans to send a warship (frigate) through the South China Sea this summer“–individual Canadian frigates have been making such transits for some time].
Moreover, unlike the U.S., we have no treaty obligations to any countries in the Indo-Pacific [see U.S. treaties here]. We have no “allies” in the true meaning of the term. On the other hand we are members of the NATO alliance and NORAD (actually an agreement, not a formal treaty). As things stand the Canadian Armed forces, all three services, are hard pressed to meet our current commitments under NATO and NORAD or to respond effectively if real crises occur.
Trying to play that military role in the Indo-Pacific, essentially code for helping deal with an increasingly aggressive China, just does not make sense for us. Canada is simply not in a position to take on that role in any meaningful way. If we think we may gain a bit of credit by flying the flag with the odd cruise of an RCN ship, fine. But nothing much more.
As for our Navy, it should focus on anti-submarine warfare in the North Atlantic (far and away its top NATO priority during the Cold War) in light on the resurgent Russian submarine threat there, in particular to NORAD from sea-launched cruise missiles. The US would love to see us publicly announce we are doing that–consider their own refocus [note “Comments” at post below]:
UPDATE: a very relevant earlier post, note esp. 2):