Conversations with Canadian Leaders: Canada as an Asia Pacific Nation

What We Heard

In the past, Canada has focused primarily on cooperation with the US and Europe, but Canadian leaders are optimistic about Canada-Asia relations considering recent progress and increasing engagement across sectors. Many of the leaders interviewed have established relations in the Asia Pacific region, ranging from multilateral and bilateral agreements between governments to business relationships and joint educational and research programs.  Below are some of the key findings from our interviews and discussions on Canada as an Asia Pacific nation, our role in the region, as well as perceptions of Canada-Asia cooperation.

Canada as an Asia Pacific Nation

  • While some private sector leaders preferred to think of the Asia Pacific region as markets, common reasons for seeing Canada as an Asia Pacific nation included our geographic and historical connections, as well as the social and cultural ties forged through immigration.
  • Amid rapid change and hyper competition in the Asia Pacific region, several leaders highlighted the need to overcome complacent attitudes and raised concerns over the lack of public awareness about the importance of Canada-Asia relations.
  • Most leaders agreed that it was important for all Canadians to see themselves as being connected to the Asia Pacific region and underscored the need to educate the general population about the impact of economic and demographic trends in the region.

Canada’s Role in the Asia Pacific Region

  • Given the economic opportunities in the Asia Pacific region, many leaders see Canada mainly as a trading partner in the region but there is potential to play diverse roles depending on the specific industry and country.
  • Most leaders were realistic about the financial and capacity constraints across sectors and made specific reference to the challenges facing small businesses.
  • Despite the success of some Canadian organizations, Canada still lacks a clear strategy for the region, with sectors and industries working in silos rather than developing a coordinated approach to achieve common objectives.
  • Some leaders spoke about the need to balance economic interests with social and environmental responsibilities, whereas others warned against taking a moral stance and preferred to focus on building working relationships.

Canada-Asia Cooperation

  • Varying levels of openness to Canadian investment and partnership opportunities were mentioned although it was noted that greater barriers have been encountered in China.
  • Besides partnerships in the resource sector, education is another area that is benefitting from further cooperation but Canada continues to lag behind other education exporting countries.
  • Due to unease over potential industry control by foreign governments, some expressed reservations regarding Asian investment in Canada, especially those made by Chinese state-owned enterprises.
  • In addition to Asia’s highly competitive environment, leaders shared concerns over governance and regulatory practices that appear to be incompatible with Canadian standards and values.
  • While Canada should be open to investments from all regions, most leaders emphasized the need to ensure reciprocity.