Thursday, May 31, 2012

Eh, too, Canada?

Guambat has been perhaps overly intrigued with the ructions in the South China Sea, most recently this. It's a subject that has engaged all littoral states.

And now Canada, too, seems to be taking the cause up, literally. Eh?

Troubled waters: Canada and the South China Sea
Although Canada’s friends in the region – Australia, Japan and the United States – do not claim any part of the South China Sea, they are becoming concerned about Chinese belligerence. In addition to confronting Vietnamese and Philippine ships, Chinese ships and aircraft have harassed U.S. vessels operating in the South China Sea. The United States, Japan and Australia are thus becoming concerned that China seeks to limit their access to its claimed waters. Problematically, these claimed waters amount to the entire littoral area from the Yellow Sea to the waters off Indonesia, bounded on the east by the islands of Japan and the Philippines.

The Harper government has made a clear decision to engage East Asian states, particularly China, as it attempts to capitalize on the second half of the “Asian Century.” Ottawa has made no secret of its preference for focusing this engagement on economic issues as part of a strategy to diversify away from U.S. markets.

Regional tensions threaten Ottawa’s preference. Canada’s diplomatic track record in the region, such as it exists, has previously been centred on supporting maritime security initiatives in Southeast Asia. It has a history of diplomatic activism in this policy realm. Canada has been silent, however, on the recent flare-ups in maritime East Asia. Ottawa appears reluctant to weigh in on security issues to which it is not a party

Quiet diplomatic pressure has been applied to Canada by its friends in the region to address the growing disconnect between China, its neighbours and the United States on maritime security and navigational issues in East Asia. One option is for Ottawa to issue a diplomatic statement supporting the peaceful resolution of the disputes in the South China Sea and articulating its stance on navigational freedoms through regional seas. Beyond issuing such a statement, Canada could leverage its legacy as an impartial dialogue partner, built during the 1990s, to once again facilitate dialogue between China and its neighbours.

additional diplomatic support from Canada on South China Sea issues may in fact do little to modify Chinese behaviour. Indeed, a public Canadian statement that supports the U.S.-Japanese position on freedom of navigation in the South China Sea could further reinforce the dominant nationalist narrative within China, in which Western states seek to impose their will on China. Therefore, continued Canadian ambiguity on South China Sea issues, however challenging, may be the best way forward.

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