By Paul Wells - Friday, October 12, 2012 - 0 Comments
John Baird makes the rounds of the global middle powers
In the panoply of tools available to a cabinet minister, public remarks are always a sign that a written statement wasn’t thought to be enough. So Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird was sending a clear signal on Oct. 3 when he convened Ottawa reporters on short notice to condemn Syrian shelling of Turkish targets that left five Turkish civilians dead.
Turkish artillery had already fired back. Baird sided unequivocally with the Turks. “Canada strongly condemns, in no uncertain terms, this attack by the Assad regime across Syria’s border,” Baird told the cameras. It was an indication of support for Turkey that went above and beyond Canada’s minimum obligations.
It was not the first. In the 17 months since he became Foreign Affairs Minister after the 2011 election, Baird has been working to improve Canada’s relationship with a handful of countries around the world. The list includes Turkey, Indonesia, Nigeria and Vietnam. What the countries have in common is that they are big regional players with bright economic futures that at least balance their woes. In the 1980s, one might have called them “middle powers,” a list that has almost always included Canada.
Baird’s studied pursuit of these global middleweights marks an evolution in the Conservative government’s foreign policy. Support for Israel has been pretty much the only constant since 2006. The Prime Minister’s early enthusiasm for the so-called Anglosphere countries—the United States, Australia and Britain—vanished after conservative governments were defeated in the first two countries and Britain’s Labour government was replaced by a Conservative-led coalition that has little in common with Stephen Harper’s. Harper’s next big idea—this year’s pivot on energy exports from the United States to China—is turning out to be difficult to execute.
Suddenly a bunch of countries that function like so many far-flung Canadas are getting a lot of attention. “Minister Baird has made engaging with . . . emerging powers (‘next economies,’ as some call them) a definite priority,” Rick Roth, Baird’s press secretary, told me. “That’s one reason he is visiting Nigeria this week, for instance.
“To paraphrase Wayne Gretzky: you have to go to where the puck is going to be, not where it is.”
For most of a decade, the puck sure hasn’t been in Turkey. Successive Canadian governments have been frank about using the term “Armenian genocide” in relation to events in 1915. The Harper government has maintained that position since it came to power in 2006. As the Turkish embassy’s website notes, this “creates difficulties in Turkish-Canadian relations.”
But lately, it actually doesn’t. Gulcan Akoguz, the chargé d’affaires at the Turkish embassy in Ottawa, told me Baird’s personal involvement has accelerated a reassertion of normal relations, and more, between the two countries. “Canadian international relations is changing under Minister Baird,” Akoguz said.
There are now direct ﬂights between Ankara and Toronto; flights to Montreal may soon be added. There have been preliminary discussions toward Canada-Turkey free trade, a Turkish consulate in Toronto has opened, and in August Ahmet Davutoglu became the first Turkish foreign minister to visit Ottawa in 14 years.
It was the same month that Baird welcomed Indonesia’s visiting foreign minister. Turkey’s population is 75 million, Indonesia’s 240 million; both populations are overwhelmingly Muslim. Nigeria, which Baird visited this month has 170 million people, half Muslim. Not every country on Baird’s list has a large Muslim population: Vietnam’s 88 million people include almost no Muslims, but its robust economy makes it, with Indonesia, a handy Asian counterweight to China. But it’s striking that so many countries on Baird’s list are largely Islamic. This reflects both the unsurprising news that about 1.6 billion people in the world are Muslim, and the slightly more surprising news that the Harper government has decided it cannot forever work around them.
Is there an electoral or immigration-related angle to the list of countries Baird is concentrating on? Not really. Canada’s Turkish and Indonesian minorities, combined, amount to fewer than 60,000 people. This emerging middle-power strategy seems pretty clearly to be about Canada trying to exert influence in the world, not about Conservatives seeking to improve their performance among Canadian voters.
In a sense it reflects lessons learned, often belatedly, after nearly a decade in power. And in the end, it is still a complex world with a lot of moving parts. Canada can’t prosper if it withdraws from the world, and it can’t have any influence unless it deepens its relationships with the countries that function as big regional players. The isolationism of the Harper government’s early years was a luxury Canada can no longer afford. In international relations as in so many things, this government has learned, and adjusted.
By Alex Ballingall - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 at 10:20 AM - 0 Comments
The U.S., Japan and European Union have banded together against China in a trade…
The U.S., Japan and European Union have banded together against China in a trade dispute over rare earths, a resource that is essential to the fabrication of advanced technologies in the defense industry, and for products like high definition TVs and smartphones.
The trio has filed an official complaint with the World Trade Organization, accusing Beijing of imposing quotas on the export of rare earths, thus hampering other countries’ ability to competitively manufacture related products. China is responsible for 90 per cent of the world’s supply of rare earths. “We want our companies building those products right here in America. But to do that, American manufacturers need to have access to rare earth materials which China supplies,” said U.S. President Barack Obama, quoted by Reuters.
China says the criticism is unfair, saying that Western countries have purposefully scaled back their own rare earths production due to pollution concerns. They say this has led to an over-exploitation of China’s reserves, and justifies the restrictions on rare earths exports from that country.
Regardless, as the Wall Street Journal reports, there’s evidence that China’s efforts to curb rare earths production have been futile. After decreasing the export quota in 2010, the newspaper reports that import data from Japan showed little change. In other words, some Chinese exporters simply ignored the new rules.
But rare earth prices have experience massive spikes due to supply constrictions. And, evidently, that has developed countries concerned.
By Julia Belluz - Wednesday, April 6, 2011 at 9:39 AM - 10 Comments
As relations with the U.S. erode, Islamabad finds a friend in Beijing
Pakistan’s ambassador to China used a recent celebration of his country’s Republic Day to give a rhetoric-filled talk about Beijing-Islamabad relations. If March 23, 1940, was the day the Muslim League decided to establish Pakistan, then the anniversary would be a time to declare that relations with China will define the way forward. “We shall take our bilateral relations to new heights,” Masood Khan proclaimed. “China and Pakistan are the best friends in the world.” The warm words echoed those of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, who said during a December visit to Pakistan that the neighbours would “remain brothers forever.” Such events, of course, can be mere exercises in diplomacy. But in Wen’s case, the sentiment seemed sincere; it was backed by $35 billion in economic deals, and he rolled out a proposal to help Pakistan’s rebuilding after last summer’s flooding, even suggesting that 2011 be the “Year of China-Pakistan Friendship.”
If China appears to be paying special attention to Pakistan lately, it may be because it senses a real opportunity. Pakistan’s relations with its most powerful ally, the United States, have been souring for some time, possibly leaving Islamabad open to other overtures. Most recently, in March, Pakistanis protested and burned American flags over the release of Raymond Davis, a CIA contractor who confessed to killing two men in Lahore. Though he was freed after families of the victims were paid “blood money,” the case further bruised the Washington-Islamabad alliance. Even in the art galleries of Karachi, exhibitions featured critiques of the “fair-weather” friendship. As Michael Krepon wrote on the Arms Control Wonk blog, “U.S.-Pakistan ties are the worst I can recall in almost two decades of visits, and are likely to deteriorate further.”
Fraying ties with one global superpower, however, do not fully explain the vigour of the China friendship. Pakistan has been moving into China’s sphere of influence for decades, and the countries routinely refer to each other as “all-weather” partners. This year will mark the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations. “Even when I was there in 1981, ’82, I could see Chinese military factories going up,” says Stephen Cohen, a Pakistan expert at the Brookings Institution. Now, Pakistan represents a major market for China’s nuclear and military technology. According to SIPRI, a Swedish think tank, over 40 per cent of Chinese arms exports go to Pakistan—the largest share of any country China sells to. New U.S. intelligence assessments concluded that Pakistan has been steadily growing its nuclear arsenal since President Barack Obama came to power in 2008, and it is poised to overtake Britain as the world’s fifth-largest nuclear weapons power. This is largely thanks to the People’s Republic. Cohen says, “No one did not believe that the Chinese role was not critical and remains important.”
China also recently announced that it would forge ahead with plans to build two more nuclear power reactors in Pakistan—despite the crisis in Japan and global concerns over atomic safety. So it helps, of course, that the China-Pakistan union is a relationship devoid of criticism. Like most countries that benefit from China’s deep pockets, says South Asia analyst Teresita C. Schaffer, “the Pakistanis don’t do things we do that embarrass our friends, like hassle visitors about human rights.”
Meanwhile, relations between the two Asian nations balance ever-warmer ties between the U.S. and Pakistan’s arch-rival, India. Since the Sino-Indian war in 1962, Pakistan has viewed China as a regional counterweight to rising India, whose presence has been a source of security concerns following partition in 1947, and three subsequent major wars. “India is bigger and more successful economically,” says Schaffer. “[Pakistan] has always sought to make friends with powerful outsiders, in order to compensate for India’s larger size.”
But the syrupy rhetoric regarding Pakistan’s friendship with China can be deceiving. “China did not help Pakistan in the 1965 war, and did nothing in the 1971 war,” says Christine Fair, assistant professor at Georgetown University. “It took the side of India in the 1999 Kargil war.” China’s trade with India outstrips trade with Pakistan. Fair adds, “Yes, China has been a consistent military provider, but the logic there is to keep Pakistan in the position to distract India.” Other analysts point out that investing in Pakistan’s ports and infrastructure gives China an alternative route for energy sources. Fair concludes, “The Pakistan-China marriage looks like a love marriage but it’s also a marriage of convenience. The only difference is, China doesn’t complain about Pakistan, but we do.”
Still, at a time when it seems everything is going wrong for Islamabad—rising food prices and inflation paired with a weak currency, a middle class that has virtually disappeared, and a society that is increasingly fragmented—it feels it has a friend in Beijing. Though, as Cohen points out, “Pakistan may not be such a great prize for China. Between ethnic violence and religious quarrels, it’s coming apart at the seams.”
By macleans.ca - Wednesday, December 1, 2010 at 2:07 PM - 29 Comments