Canada is perceived as a good international citizen built on fundamental human rights and freedoms and its strongest asset in the world for years has been its soft power. However, based on the recent events shaping the world, it seems like hard power still plays first fiddle.
How is Canada getting on in the international space and what are the prospects for the future?
Canada’s expenditure on defense has declined considerably, and now the military is less than it should be considering the population and prosperity of the country and this has led to a degree of exclusion of Canada from important international multilateral institutions. Canada’s virtue signaling on international issues is less and less paid attention to because soft power has to be backed by meaningful hard power.
“Canada is not a member of the Quad in the Indo-Pacific, it is surprisingly not even part of the US’ Indopacific framework, which is quite striking.” – Charles Burton
“Canada is seeing itself in a marginalized position where leaders may pretend that Canada is an important leader in soft power but in fact, we seem to be a non-player in a lot of aspects in the current world affairs.” – Burton
In order to increase its influence in the world, Canada has to strengthen and invest in its military. The problem is that the popular will is more oriented towards domestic issues, and the idea of transferring resources into the military is not popular under this government. The fundamental issue is the extent to which the future government puts priority into international security.
“Canada has to accept that Canada is no longer as major a player as we used to be.” – Burton
The Arctic is melting and there are several nations aspiring for its territory, namely China and Russia. This unprecedented situation can be perceived as a serious challenge and concern for Canada. Russia claims a lot of Arctic sea that really would belong to Canada and China has defined itself as a near-Arctic state and refers to the Polar Silk Road even though it is geographically very far from the Arctic.
What has Canada been doing to address these concerns?
Canada’s defense of the Arctic is pretty weak. Its military presence in the Arctic is very low, and the issue is that in the event of a conflict both Russia and China would be able to present a stronger military presence in the Arctic, which would pose a security threat to North American Security.
“Canada preventing China from establishing the state presence of Shandong Gold in the Arctic near a NORAD facility on Canadian soil.” – Burton
China’s influence has been increasing not only in the Arctic but all around the world and so far we are not seeing enough awareness or willingness to allocate the resources and intelligence agencies in terms of military hardware to keep up with the advances that Russia and China are making in this frightening global scheme.
China is the second most important bilateral commercial partner for Canada. At the same time, Canada is a loud critic of Human Rights violence and the rule-of-law breach in China, especially towards the Uyghurs and other minorities.
Is Canada’s mission to be the spearhead of the international community in pressing China to respect human rights?
Canada’s parliament, the House of Commons, had a unanimous resolution declaring China’s activities in the area they call Shingjang as constituting genocide. But at the same time the government sent a fairly reassuring message to the Chinese embassy that the actual people who count in terms of policy and deciding things did not vote for this resolution.
A lot of people think that if Canada offends China by challenging their domestic and international policy, Canada will suffer economically. However, only about 4 % of Canada’s external commodities trade goes to China, which does not make Canada dependent on China.
“It is about effective Chinese propaganda saying to people: Well, you know if you are going to defend human rights internationally, you will be made to suffer economically.” – Burton
Being the spearhead of Human Rights in the international community is certainly a role that Canada would like to play and it is quite active in the UN. However, the UN has not been effective in constraining Russia and China from participation in international human rights institutions.
China and its increasing role across the whole world pose a concern for a great number of countries. We can mention the Belt and Road Initiative, growing tensions over territory disputes in the South China Sea and the ticking bomb called Taiwan, for example.
How do you envision China’s role in the world in five, ten, and fifteen years?
“So many wars have started with some small precipitating incidents. So one wonders about an accident that would prepare Chinese public opinion for a more aggressive military action such as attempting to annex Taiwan.” – Burton
China expects to achieve a society that is able to be a hegemonic power by 2050. That is the realization of the community of the Chinese Common Destiny of Mankind. The assumption that the United States is a power in decline and that the multilateral institutions that preserve peace and prosperity like the UN, WTO, and NATO will wither away in favor of Chinese-based relations is China’s goal for the next years.
“The worst-case scenario is that China does achieve this audacious plan and I think we can’t rule that out.” – Burton