Dec 20, 2021

Everything India offers — a large market, adherence to a rules-based order, a young population — is central to Canada’s domestic needs and national interests, write Shuvaloy Majumdar and Vijay Sappani in the Toronto Star.

The 44th Parliament will have to deal with new challenges and opportunities unimagined by the previous, elected just two years ago. China and the Indo-Pacific are intertwined features of a vastly different international landscape, and there is good reason to re-evaluate Canada’s foreign policy priorities.

Having concluded his hostage hostilities with Canada, Chinese President Xi Jinping has commenced a reimagination of China’s history, building into being a vision of a dual-circulation, decoupled international economic order, imbued with far more militant ambitions. The U.S. is increasingly focused on climate change and the environment, with significant implications to Canadian energy interests — the bedrock of our economy. The Pakistan-backed Taliban have returned to fractious power in Afghanistan, and a historical peace accord is in place between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

The world is focusing more and more on the Indo-Pacific in addressing these global challenges. The U.S., Japan, India and Australia are animating their Quadrilateral Security Dialogue to address broader supply chain and technological challenges of the Indo-Pacific. A new Quad is now emerging between Israel, UAE, U.S. and India to address issues on the shores of the Middle East and Red Sea region.

The Canadian presence in the Pacific has featured humanitarian assistance, diaspora connections, and more recently, strategic naval exercises. Yet Canada’s relationship with China is facing headwinds that will likely only worsen. Hostage diplomacy and economic coercion have rightly shaken Canada’s confidence in engaging with China. Countering China is increasingly a major concern for Canada’s essential alliances.

Reportedly years in the making, Canada still lacks a clear and coherent Indo-Pacific strategy to guide its actions. Neither Canadians nor the world knows where Canada stands on several issues of national and international importance that have long-term implications. The case of 5G network technology provides the best example — to this day, Canada is the only country in the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance that has not banned Huawei.

This indecision reflects poorly on Canada, and undermines confidence in our ability to be a global player. Increasingly, Canada is being left out of every major global partnership that has been created or proposed by our allies in the last several years — from the Quad to AUKUS. Our importance on the global scale is diminishing.

Justin Trudeau now has a chance to reorient our global engagement to better align with a world centred on the Indo-Pacific. India is a vital partner in this endeavour — a gateway to the Indo-Pacific — and it is significant that every major ally is boldly strengthening ties with India. Everything India offers — a large market, adherence to a rules-based order, a young population — is central to Canada’s domestic needs and national interests. Yet Canada-India relations remain at their lowest ebb, despite the long-standing ties between the two.

Unlike authoritarian China, India represents a partner that shares Canadian values and interests. A vibrant multicultural federation with a strong and professional military that has faced intense Chinese aggression, India should be key to Canada’s pivot to the Indo-Pacific.

Canada should refocus its foreign policy in Asia by prioritizing ties with India. Specifically, a ministerial dialogue needs to be renewed between our respective foreign and defence ministers.

The two countries have been working towards a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) for over a decade. Canada can signal its seriousness by expediting discussions and signing a series of sector-based trade agreements — from energy security to education, and from the seas to space.

While the two countries also share security concerns, defence ties between them are modest. The two have a Joint Working Group on Counter-Terrorism, and held initial talks on cold-climate warfare and defence research. Enhancing bilateral and regional security partnership should be top of the agenda. The navies of Canada and India have conducted anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden for over a decade. Joint patrols, basing agreements and expanded naval exercises in Indo-Pacific waters with India and other members of the Quad should be prioritized.

It is time Canada reset its foreign policy priorities. Rejuvenating Canada’s relationship with India should be Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly’s top priority.