At this year’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, held in Thailand, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the Canadian military presence in the Pacific—which has increased in recent years as part of Ottawa’s new “Indo-Pacific” strategic framework—will be deepened once more. Leading officials in Ottawa have stated that the increase in Canadian military personnel in the “Indo-Pacific” is aimed at countering China’s role in the region.
Canadian Armed Forces already have a footprint in the region as part of Operation Neon, the multinational military blockade of North Korea, and other missions. Likewise, Canadian arms sales to allied countries in the region have risen exponentially over the past few years. Between 2020 and 2021, Canadian weapons shipments to members of the US-led Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF) more than doubled, with sales to Japan representing the largest increase.
After announcing that Ottawa would increase Canada’s military presence in the region, Trudeau said that the move will “support our allies, Japan and South Korea, and all of us in the Pacific.” On November 18, Trudeau’s final day in Thailand, Defense Minister Anita Anand confirmed that Canada will be increasing its military presence in the region as part of a soon-to-be released update to its “Indo-Pacific” policy. “We will increase our military presence and enhance our defense and security relationships with partners and allies in the region,” Anand stated, before stating that Canada would “challenge China when we ought to.”
One week before Trudeau’s announcement, Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly asserted that China is an “increasingly disruptive global power.” China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said the remarks were “filled with ideological bias.” He added: “Defining it’s so-called Indo-Pacific strategy is Canada’s own matter, but no matter what regional strategy Canada proposes, the guiding principle should be mutual benefits and win-win, rather than zero-sum chess game[s] and conservative Cold War zero-sum thinking.”
Positioning Canada as a reliable partner for the future— this is what our Indo-Pacific Strategy will be about. pic.twitter.com/M40msvNOeV— Mélanie Joly (@melaniejoly) November 9, 2022
While promising to send more Canadian troops to the Pacific to counter China, the Liberal government is also planning to spend $84.5 billion on a new fleet of warships, which will cost approximately $220 billion to maintain and operate over the next 65 years.
Meanwhile, Canada’s Chief of the Defence Staff Wayne Eyre has called for Canadian weapons manufacturers to enter a “war footing” and produce more “ammunition, artillery, rockets…you name it.” Eyre has also claimed, without evidence, that China will soon pose a threat to Canada’s hold over Yukon, the Northwest Territories, and Nunavut.
While ramping up anti-China rhetoric and further militarizing Canadian foreign policy, Ottawa has identified the Asia-Pacific region as a site of long-term profitability for Canadian exports, including the critical minerals necessary to produce battery metals. As Trudeau himself has said, “The need for clean energy and green infrastructure is also growing at a rapid pace here in the Indo-Pacific…As the world moves towards net zero, there is enormous potential to grow our ties in the natural resources sector.”
At the summit, Trudeau said that one of his government’s goals is “opening new markets and opportunities for Canadian businesses, innovators, and entrepreneurs, and attracting investment to Canada in sectors like clean energy that will define the global economy,” i.e., critical minerals. After the summit, the prime minister’s office released a statement claiming that he “underlined Canada’s unique contributions to the region [as] a reliable exporter of natural resources, including the critical minerals needed in the clean energy transition.”
During the forum, Ottawa pledged $13.5 million to expand natural resources ties with member nations, with the PM’s statement noting: “This investment will help countries on both sides of the Pacific transition to a clean economy by sharing and expanding Canada’s expertise, including the sustainable development of critical minerals…” The PM’s office has stated that this program will “support the expansion and diversification of trade and investment in Canadian natural resources.” Meanwhile other programs like a $45 million series of trade missions aim to “position Canadian exporters and innovators for success in Indo-Pacific markets.”
Ottawa’s attempt to expand its mineral ties with the Asia-Pacific is a move that necessarily entails countering China’s regional dominance in that sector. This move is also occurring in the context of increased US interest in Canadian minerals. Canadian officials have travelled to Washington to pitch Canadian minerals as an alternative to China, with Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry François-Philippe Champagne using the opportunity to urge allied nations to completely decouple from the Chinese economy.
Meanwhile, the US military is soliciting applications for Canadian mining projects to receive direct funding from the US military. Around 70 projects have applied for US government funding so far, including mines in Ontario’s highly controversial Ring of Fire, where Indigenous communities have been opposing resource exploitation for years.
Ottawa’s decision to send more Canadian soldiers to the Asia-Pacific region while singling out China as their target is an extremely dangerous and highly provocative move. The broader context for this alarming choice is as follows: the Canadian state and corporate community have identified the region as a lucrative source of export markets for Canadian goods, such as battery minerals, and making the most out of this profitable opportunity requires targeting China while integrating even more with the US military apparatus. The outcome could be disastrous.
Owen Schalk is a writer based in Winnipeg. He is primarily interested in applying theories of imperialism, neocolonialism, and underdevelopment to global capitalism and Canada’s role therein. Visit his website at www.owenschalk.com.