John Ibbitson, writing in the Globe and Mail, notes that “Next week’s [now this week’s] ministerial meeting in Vancouver on North Korea is turning into a curious affair. Several countries with vital interests in the peninsula are not participating. The agenda of the meeting is unclear. And recent events have overtaken whatever that agenda might be.” He quotes Brian Job, director of the Centre of International Relations at the Liu Institute at University of British Columbia, where the actual event will be held as saying that “the initiative for the Vancouver meeting is from Mr. Tillerson … [and] … He is clearly attempting to delay, forestall, whatever word you wish to use, efforts by more hawkish elements in the White House who continue to argue for the prospect of a military attack.” Exactly what Mr Tillerson is attempting and why are, I think, a bit more difficult to explain in a rapidly changing environment.
Mr Ibbitson get to the nub of it, though, when he says that “Canada is always happy to facilitate, and since the Trudeau government wants to be particularly co-operative while the NAFTA renegotiations are under way, Ms. Freeland readily agreed [to host the meeting, but] … it’s an odd crew that will be gathering in Vancouver. The core invitees consists of countries that fought under the United Nations banner in the Korean War, plus a few additions such as India and Sweden … [but] … North Korea will not be attending, nor will China … [and] … The agenda is rather opaque. A Canadian government official, speaking on background, said the main purpose is to survey the sanctions in place against North Korea, with a view to examining what gaps may exist and how best to close them … [but] … With nothing specific on the agenda, one wonders what is to be gained by reassembling the coalition of nations that fought against North Korea, other than to antagonize North Korea.” In fact, Bloomberg reports that both China and Japan have criticized the conference: “Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said Wednesday that an upcoming Canadian-organized meeting on North Korea would “not help” because it didn’t include key players, adding that it would “harm joint efforts to improve the situation on the peninsula.” Japan, South Korea, India and Sweden are among those invited. China and Russia — who supported the North Korea side during the war — were not … [and] … a Japanese foreign ministry official questioned the need for including countries as distant as Colombia and Greece.“
Given those views on should repeat: What is to be gained, indeed?
Canada will have gained a few “brownie points” with Rex Tillerson and the US State Department, but it’s not clear that we need more American support except in the White House and in the congress. This will hardly be seen, by anyone who matters, as Canada showing “leadership,” Canada is, as John Ibbitson puts it “providing the meeting rooms and coffee,” that’s catering, not leading. At best it will burnish Justin Trudeau’s boy-scout image … but that may be the last thing Canada really needs right now.
Canada risks, after the other Vancouver “summit” on peacekeeping, being seen as the hat check girl of international diplomacy … that’s not foreign policy, it’s just another form of “virtue signalling.” IF the Liberals want to be taken seriously in the world then they need to start by realizing, in private, at least, that “sunny ways” is a great slogan but not a foundation for action.
Canada needs to return to being a nation of principles … principles for which it is ready, willing and able to fight, if necessary. It is time for Canada to cast aside the pacifistic, unprincipled rubbish that Pierre and Justin Trudeau both appeared to believe and step back to the notions of Louis St Laurent … when we didn’t need to hind behind anyone’s skirts and when we had a real foreign policy, not a fake one.
Once again, as I did over two years ago, I assert that “The next Conservative leader should be a lot like a long dead Liberal.” I was referring, of course, to Louis St Laurent who committed Canada to fight in Korea over the objections of many veterans of the Mackenzie-King era. He did so because of principles. Canada’s prime minister and foreign minister need to be better than Rex Tillerson’s errand boys.