January 28, 2023

foreign business

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Canada to send more warships through Taiwan Strait in signal to China

Canada plans to sail more warships through the Taiwan Strait to affirm the waters claimed by China are international, after Ottawa released an Indo-Pacific strategy that described Beijing as an “increasingly disruptive” power.

“We need to make sure that the question of the Taiwan Strait is clear and that it remains an international strait,” Canadian foreign minister Mélanie Joly said in an interview.

“We will continue to enforce the international rules-based order when it comes to the Taiwan Strait. And that’s why also we had a frigate going through the Taiwan Strait this summer, along with the Americans, [and] we’re looking to have more frigates going through it.”

Chinese officials earlier this year told their US counterparts that China did not recognise the strait as international waters.

Speaking from Bucharest where she was attending a Nato foreign minister meeting, Joly said Canada was “committing to new military assets” in the Indo-Pacific to help ensure peace and stability in the region. She was speaking just after Canada released its first strategy for the region which called for a “once-in-a-generation shift”.

The Nato ministers in Bucharest held a wide-ranging discussion on China, as the US urges the transatlantic security alliance to pay more attention to the ramifications of possible Chinese military action against Taiwan.

Joly said Canada was investing C$400mn (US $297mn) in military support for the Indo-Pacific. The foreign minister said Ottawa would increase the number of frigates deployed in the region by one ship to three warships. And in addition to sending more Canadian diplomats to the area, she said Canada would post more military attaches across the Indo-Pacific.

Joly was speaking just after the Pentagon released an annual report on the Chinese military, which projected that China would have 1,500 nuclear warheads by the middle of the next decade, up from roughly 400 weapons now. Asked how concerned Canada was about China’s rapid nuclear expansion, she said it was “taking note definitely”.

“We know we have to do more to play a role in the security of the region,” Joly said. “We need to invest in deterrence because we believe . . . it is the best way to, at the end of the day, respect international norms.”

Joly said Canada would also invest more in the Five Eyes — the intelligence sharing network that connects the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand — but declined to provide any details about specific programmes.

“We have to make sure we have better intelligence capacity across the region . . . We are a Pacific nation, we need to make sure that we play a bigger role,” she said.

“Since this part of the world is so important for us, we need to be a reliable partner because for too long we weren’t,” Joly added about Canada’s overall strategy. And so now “we’re putting our money where our mouth is.”

Joly declined to provide details about a recent announcement that Canada and Japan would negotiate an intelligence sharing agreement, but said it was in Ottawa’s interest to have “a very close intelligence relationship with Japan”. One person familiar with the deal being negotiated said it would also make it easier for Canadian companies to obtain sensitive information needed to help them bid for Japanese defence-related contracts.

She said Canada also wanted to strengthen ties with Japan and South Korea, partly as a destination for energy exports, but also as possible investors in its mineral sector. Her comments came just weeks after Ottawa ordered three Chinese groups to divest their stakes in Canadian mineral companies, as part of an effort to determine whether foreign investments in critical Canadian industries threaten the country’s national security.

While Canada’s new strategy takes a hard stance on China — on everything from its repression of Uyghurs to its crack down on democracy in Hong Kong — Joly said Ottawa also believed in the need to engage with Beijing.

Joly said Canada would “challenge” China when necessary but “co-operate when we must” on issues such as climate change, nuclear non-proliferation, and global health issues such as preventing pandemics.

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