Everyman’s Strategic Survey (37): Canada as an Asian power?

Irvin Studin, a noted Canadian policy wonk of, pretty much, the highest order ~ Canadian Privy Council Office and Australian Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, has written an interesting essay for the South China Morning Post, which is headlined: “How China’s Polar Silk Road can Make Canada the Next Big Asian Power.

Dr Studin, writing from an Australian perspective, which is more familiar to Asian readers,t begins with a brief geography lesson, pointing out that “Whitehorse, the capital of beautiful Yukon (population 37,000 for a territory the size of France), in the north-west of Canada, is almost 1,000 kilometres (621 miles) closer to Beijing than is Brisbane, capital of Queensland, in Australia’s north-east. Vancouver is closer to China’s capital than is Sydney.” When he worked, as a Canadian official on secondment, he says, “in the Australian Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet in Canberrait was perfectly clear to Australian strategists that Australia was, for all practical purposes, “in” Asia this century – a vocation first commended to the Aussies by the late Australian wit Donald Horne in his canonical book The Lucky Country. By contrast, my distinguished colleagues in the Privy Council (Prime Minister’s) Office in Ottawa still had a largely continental mental map in respect to Canada’s strategic game. In the aftermath of 9/11, Canada’s top three international priorities were America, America and, lest there be any doubt, America.

If Canada is only just beginning to think about its strategic future in Asia this century,” he says, “it remains psychologically moored to the United States and the capriciousness of US President Donald Trump’s administration – particularly in respect to the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) renegotiations – requiring Canada, paradoxically, to immerse itself even further in policy frameworks from Washington.” I think that’s very true: we are being dragged further 00016c8b5de00f6b893d29and further into America’s dangerously wobbly orbit just when we ought to be looking for ways to break free. “And yet,” he opines, “China’s first Arctic policy suggests that Beijing has already begun to actively imagine, at least implicitly, China’s Canadian future. Beijing announced late last month it would encourage companies to build infrastructure and conduct commercial trial voyages that would “bring opportunities to the Arctic”. It called for more scientific research and environmental protection for the Arctic Circle, revealing an interest in tapping resources and taking part in governance.” If the Chinese are, indeed, thinking about us then we need to be, very seriously, thinking about them and the potential impacts of their strategy. “Canada,” Irvin Studin says, “will need to reciprocate with strategic sophistication, and without some of the moralism and ideological hysteria that still confuses discourse between many Western democracies and China. Indeed, as I read China’s Arctic document, only one position should really create any strategic concern for Canada: Beijing’s understanding of the Northwest Passage as an international strait, which is at odds with Ottawa’s long-standing insistence that the waterway constitutes internal Canadian waters under international law. ” That, of course, is the same position the Americans take … rock, meet hard place.

map-gameBut, it is important to remember that it is the NorthEast Passage, through Russian waters, to Europe that is of immediate interest to China, not, right now, the NorthWest Passage towards the Eastern Seaboard of North America. But, as Dr Studin knows, the Chinese are long term, strategic thinkers so their strategy will include both.

Shared environmental, scientific, economic, fishing, tourism, transport and other policy interests as articulated in the Chinese Arctic document,” Dr Studin says, “including the so-called Polar Silk Road – provide an easy basis for perfectly pragmatic Sino-Canadian relations in the Arctic and, if both sides are smart, an entrée into a deeper and longer-term bilateral engagement on a host of issues and challenges, international and domestic alike … [and, he goes on to add] … Canada should also adjust its national mental map to understand that management of the country’s massive Arctic border inevitably requires similarly deep strategic engagement with Russia, which now becomes Canada’s immediate neighbour across the fast-melting ice cap.

Then he goes on to the field of real grand strategy: Canada, he says, “is no longer the “fireproof house” of the last century, but is instead surrounded by great powers, all of them nuclear; America, China, Russia and Europe (Acre is his acronym). Ottawa will therefore need to tread carefully, never losing its cool, and engaging along all vectors to minimise the risk of calamities that immersed every continent except North America in bloodshed throughout the last century … [but, he says] … Canada only has 110,000 people living across its entire Arctic space. It will not only need many millions more in the region to manage the border, but it will require a much larger population overall to parry the potentially ferocious pressures of its Acre game … [therefore] … To this end, Canada is in the midst of a national debate about the merits of growing the country’s population of 36 million to 100 million by the year 2100. To China, 100 million may not sound impressive, but with such a population, Canada would become the second-largest country in the West – smaller still than the US but larger than every country in Europe. Indeed, a 100-million strong Canada would also become a bona fide Asian power – or quasi-Asian power, as it were, to China’s quasi-Arctic power.” He is talking about a net gain ~ essentially ALL through immigration, given our low birth rate ~ of 65 million people in 65 years. That’s HUGE and I’m not sure Canadians are happy with 300,000 real immigrants a year, how will they feel about iqaluit-nunavut-citizenship-ceremony-swearing-an-oath1,300,000 by, say, 2068? But it is doable if, and it’s a big IF, we can maintain high levels of immigration from Asia. Many, of course will be from China, itself, but we need more from, especially, India and 1101931118_400the Philippines. By 2100, if we want to have 75 to 100 million people in Canada, as I believe we should, then we will be a “brown’ nation. Now, I have said before that I’m OK with that … I’m just not sure many others are. In fact, an article in the Toronto Star suggests that this government is trying to close off one of the pathways in which productive, hard working temporary workers from the Philippines can become Canadians ~ that’s counter productive in the short, medium and long terms. We must understand that, absent some sort of crisis, we are not going to get tens of millions of new Canadians from white, Christian, Europe and we are not doing Africa and Latin America any favours if we strip them of their best educated young people. East and South Asia are where there are surpluses of educated, sophisticated, hard working people who want to come to Canada.

Dr Studin concludes by saying that: “This means that the discourse between China and Canada in the coming decades, including all matters Arctic, could well be framed as one between two globally important players, each with clear strengths and weaknesses. Where Canada can learn from China’s planning and long-term thinking, China can learn from the nuances of Canadian federalism and decentralisation – if only to eventually allow the clever Arctic strategists in Beijing an opportunity to correct the inevitable mistakes suggested by the very Chinese condition of the “emperor being very far away”.” It also means lots of deep thinking and frank discussions amongst Canadians about what sort of future we want

That deep thinking needs to extend beyond just China because immigration is, already, changing us. e need to decide: do we want to bring in more and more people from the Middle East, West Asia and Africa who are, too often, ill-prepared to adapt to the sort of society we have built over the past 250 years? Or do we want more people from countries (like China, India and the Philippines) that have a “track record” of sending us hard working, sophisticated, well educated people who want to integrate with us and who, already, share many of our values?

That same deep thinking needs to extend towards Canada’s Arctic, as I asked over a year ago: Where are we?




Published by Ted Campbell

Old, retired Canadian soldier, Conservative ~ socially moderate, but a fiscal hawk. A husband, father and grandfather. Published material is posted under the "Fair Dealing" provisions (§29) of the Copyright Act for the purposes of research, private study and education.

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