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Trudeau’s Plan: Deepening Canada’s Ties with Southeast Asia and Shifting Supply Chain Away from China

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has emphasized the importance of Canada strengthening its ties with Southeast Asian partners, signalling a strategic shift away from China and a concerted effort to diversify its global supply chains.

Mr. Trudeau spoke in this regard during a press conference held in Singapore on Sept. 7, as he concluded a two-day visit to the region. He was asked about the degree to which Canada’s efforts to strengthen ties with member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) were motivated by escalating tensions with China.

In response, Mr. Trudeau highlighted Canada’s commitment to diversify its relationships and supply chains beyond major economic and trade partners such as the United States and China.

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“One of the things that Canada well knows [is that] it’s important to diversify our relationships and our supply chains,” he said.

“We have a tremendous connection and dependence on the United States as our largest neighbour, but we also focus on diversifying around the world to make sure we have more resilient supply chains. That’s exactly what we’re doing here in Southeast Asia.”

Mr. Trudeau acknowledged that China is a significant part of the economy of the region and indeed of the global economy. But he deferred to “tremendous opportunities across Southeast Asia to grow,” while deepening Canada’s ties to the region.

He noted that the COVID-19 pandemic underscored the need for supply chain resilience, motivating Canada to intensify its engagement with Southeast Asian nations.

Political-Security Community

During an interview with Bloomberg’s Erik Schatzker on Sept. 7, Mr. Trudeau said that achieving a political rapprochement between Canada and China is currently unfeasible, citing the Chinese communist regime’s various political decisions that have further strained its global relationships.

Specifically, Mr. Trudeau highlighted Beijing’s detention of Canadian citizens Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. Their arbitrary incarceration for more than 1,000 days was widely regarded as an instance of China’s hostage diplomacy, in response to Canada’s arrest of Huawei senior executive Meng Wanzhou. He noted that the relationship has not improved even after the release of the two Canadians in September 2021.

The prime minister attributed this ongoing tension with Beijing in part to “real concerns around foreign interference.” Reports of alleged Beijing-driven political interference in Canada have dominated recent headlines, with allegations of China’s involvement in federal elections in 2019 and 2021. Beijing is also accused of operating secret police service stations in numerous countries around the world, with at least seven in Canada.

Mr. Trudeau’s statements followed his participation in the 43rd ASEAN summit in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Sept. 6., during which Canada formally entered into a strategic partnership with the association,focusing, in no small part, on enhancing regional security.
In a joint statement, issued on Sept. 6, member states of ASEAN reaffirmed their dedication to cooperating on a wide spectrum of security challenges prevalent in the Indo-Pacific region. This signifies a mutual commitment by Canada and ASEAN nations to deepen their collaboration on key security issues, which encompass maritime security, cybersecurity, and combating transnational crime.

Following his Singapore visit, the prime minister will be attending the G20 summit in New Delhi, India, in his tour of the region.

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