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Canada Is a Source for Asian Prosperity and Stability: Baird
Source: ottawacitizen.com
Source Date: Sunday, August 03, 2014
Country: Canada
Created: Aug 05, 2014

In a “systematically unstable” world, Canada is an island of stability to which Asian countries should look for both economic and geo-political reasons, Foreign Minister John Baird said in a speech late Sunday.

“The world’s prosperity now depends on stability in Asia at least as much as it does on a peaceful and responsibly governed Europe or North America,” Baird said in an address to the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Singapore.

The minister is on a tour of East and Southeast Asia, promoting Canada as a “Pacific nation,” and even as an “Asian country,” that can contribute to the region’s stability and prosperity.

Asia’s prosperity depends on a politically stable world, Baird said, warning that “in the coming years it will be a constant challenge for Asia to keep its balance in an increasingly unstable world.”

In particular, Baird pointed to the shifting geopolitical realities of recent decades. After the “seemingly inevitable march of democracy in the latter decades of the last century, it often feels like progress has stalled over the last decade,” he said. While many Asian countries have been democratic success stories — Korea, Japan, Indonesia, India, and Mongolia, are among the ones he mentioned — others are “sliding backwards and reforms are stalling.”

In particular, Baird cited Vietnam’s restrictions on bloggers, Thailand’s military coup, Sri Lanka’s oppression of its Tamil minority, and the assaults of “extremists” on Pakistan’s once vibrant civil society. But he cast North Korea as “probably the worst of all” in its “insistence on remaining in its democratic and moral darkness.”

The minister looked to Russia as a prime example of what happens to a country whose leaders turn their backs on genuinely representative government and the rule of law. In a not-so-veiled shot at Russian President Vladimir Putin, Baird said “the decline of the Russian Federation’s democratic space in recent years has contributed to a leader who is increasingly insulated from reality, and isolated from his own people.”

That claim is open to dispute; recent polls in Russia show Putin to be highly popular, at least among Russians. Nevertheless, Baird denounced Russia’s “illegal annexation of Crimea” as a “reversion to 19th-century practices,” and cast the “shocking downing” Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine as “dangerous provocations.”

“You can’t have a prosperous air industry bringing the world together when planes are being shot out of the sky,” he said.

Baird outlined three strategic areas where he thought Canada could make a meaningful contribution to stability in the region: governance, energy security, and security cooperation.

Baird said that as a future “energy superpower” Canada will be able to satisfy much of the energy needs of Asia. “Asia needs more energy — reliable energy. Canada is a natural supplier.”

“You can’t have a sustainable reliance on certain Middle Eastern sources when a clerical regime in Iran threatens to start a nuclear arms race,” he said. “You can’t have open trade when it is necessary to take actions like sanctioning Russia over its provocations in Ukraine.”

Canada, he said, is also interested in helping make Pacific shipping lanes more secure, but is concerned at the rise in tensions around maritime boundary disputes. “You can’t have a free flow of crucial resources like liquefied natural gas when a key maritime area like the South China Sea is bubbling with tensions.”

Baird didn’t mention any country by name, but it’s no secret that Japan, Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines are increasingly concerned about China’s claims to possession of vast swathes of the South China Sea and its building of a blue-water navy.

“I believe that Canada can continue to make a difference in areas of defence and security of priority to the region,” Baird said, adding that Canada can also contribute in areas such as cyber security, military medicine, and counterterrorism.

Baird concluded his speech by noting Canada’s willingness to join the East Asia Summit, an annual power forum that involves many of the region’s leaders. Membership was expanded in 2011 to include the United States and Russia. Canada has so far been denied a seat.

“Canada is prepared to do its part to help strengthen peace, security and stability in Asia,” Baird concluded. “And we are well positioned to do so.”

(BY ROBERT SIBLEY)
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