The Liberal government’s long-promised Indo-Pacific strategy will include new investments to strengthen the role the Canadian Armed Forces plays in the region, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Friday in Thailand.
“This will support our allies, Japan and South Korea, and all of us in the Pacific,” Trudeau said Friday as he wrapped up his participation in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.
The gathering had been sidetracked by the news that North Korea had launched a ballistic missile that landed near Japanese waters.
“This is completely unacceptable, and must not continue,” Trudeau told reporters at a news conference in Bangkok.
The United States called an impromptu meeting with the leaders of Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, hosted by U.S. Vice-President Kamala Harris.
Trudeau told his five colleagues that Canada will continue its role in a United Nations mission, called Operation Neon, to monitor sanctions on North Korea.
“Canada joins our allies in condemning in the strongest terms the continued, irresponsible actions of North Korea,” he said.
Trudeau said the repeated missile launches “need to be condemned by all, in the region and around the world.”
Canada’s participation in the APEC gathering ended with a pledge of nearly $183 million in new funding over five years to strengthen ties to the region, part of the Indo-Pacific strategy the Liberals have finally started rolling out.
That includes $92.5 million to create about 60 new jobs, both at Canada’s missions in the region and within Global Affairs Canada.
“This will increase Canada’s presence here on the ground (and) deepen diplomatic ties to build and maintain the important relationships that we are creating,” International Trade Minister Mary Ng said Friday.
There is also $45 million for trade missions and about $32 million to set up Canada’s first agricultural office.
Before Trudeau was pulled aside to discuss North Korea’s move with other leaders, he announced that Ottawa will spend $13.5 million to launch a team in Canada and Asia to form energy partnerships.
“The need for clean energy and green infrastructure is also growing at a rapid pace here in the Indo-Pacific,” Trudeau said in his opening remarks at the news conference before taking questions from reporters.
“As the world moves towards net zero, there is enormous potential to grow our ties in the natural resources sector.”
While Trudeau previously spoke about expanding natural gas exports to Japan and Korea, his office said he also wants to exchange natural resources with India, Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, and Taiwan.
The new funding is part of the Indo-Pacific strategy that the Liberals have started gradually rolling out, after promising one for years.
Last week, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said diplomats in Asia have told her about “the issue of Canada not always being a reliable partner, because sometimes we show up, and then we leave, and then we go back.”
Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha noted that sporadic engagement Thursday when he welcomed Trudeau to his Bangkok residence.
“This is the first visit for you as a prime minister,” Prayut said through an interpreter.
“I hope that this visit, this particularly short one, will be as memorable” as the one Trudeau made in his youth, Prayut said.
Trudeau seemed to contradict Joly’s framing Friday.
“Canada is serious about this, this region, we have always been,” he said
“This opportunity to engage directly, to demonstrate our serious commitment with an Indo Pacific strategy (… will) show that in terms of partnership and investments, we are very much present.”
In other meetings with APEC leaders, Trudeau said he called out Russia’s war with Ukraine and stressed the importance of the World Trade Organization in upholding trade rules.
During one leaders’ session, Trudeau was seated between the heads of government of Brunei and Chile, as they were placed in alphabetical order of each country’s English name. This may have avoided another awkward encounter between Trudeau and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Xi was filmed Wednesday accusing Trudeau of harming diplomatic relations by sharing details with the media about a prior meeting. Beijing later accused Canada of acting in a “condescending manner” toward China.
The prime minister said he attended “a number of sessions” at APEC where Xi was present, but wouldn’t say whether the two discussed the incident.
Trudeau also had lunch with leaders of the 21 members of APEC, plus guests that the Thai government invited, including Saudi Arabia’s prime minister, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Trudeau told reporters he brought up Saudi Arabia’s human-rights record, and that Canada has to work with countries “of all different backgrounds” to make progress on issues like climate change or the economy.
“In every conversation with every leader, I make sure to bring up our concerns around human rights and of issues that need to be highlighted for Canadians. That’s exactly what I did,” he said.
Macron also attended the lunch as a non-APEC invitee, while Thailand had invited Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
The Associated Press reported that the Cambodian leader, however, had cancelled his visit to Thailand and had left the G20 summit in Bali early after testing positive for COVID-19.
Trudeau also met separately with Harris on Friday, discussing a range of issues including the crises in Haiti and Iranian sanctions. They discussed the recent U.S. mid-term elections, touching on abortion, climate change and the economy, Trudeau’s office said.
He also met with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who said she’s keen to partner with Canada when Trudeau releases the regional strategy.
Ardern said she agreed with much of what of Trudeau said in closed-door APEC discussions.
“Listening to the interventions in the room, you can hear the many areas in which we’re like-minded; where we have the same anxieties, where we have the same aspirations,” she said.
After Trudeau’s visits to Cambodia, Indonesia and Thailand, Trudeau will be leaving the region for Tunisia, arriving Saturday morning for a weekend at the Francophonie summit.
The meeting will bring together leaders from countries and regions with large French-speaking populations, to discuss everything from economic policy to the use of French in the digital age.
Trudeau is expected to meet with leaders from across Africa, many of whom are concerned about instability caused by soaring food costs, which the Liberals stress have been made worse by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The prime minister is set to return to Ottawa on Monday morning.