3 reasons for Canada's renewed interest in Southeast Asia
BANGKOK, Thailand – Canada has renewed its interest in, and commitment to, the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, with its appointment in 2016 of an ambassador dedicated to ASEAN alone.
Canada has been a dialogue partner of ASEAN since 1977 but its relations with the organization were affected when Myanmar joined in 1997, according to Hugh Stephens, executive-in-residence at the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.
The North American nation had strongly denounced Myanmar's junta, prompting it to impose sanctions on the Southeast Asian nation.
ASEAN-Canada relations, however, improved in 2010, which led to its signing of different trade agreements and stronger diplomatic ties in the region.
In 2016, Canada also appointed a dedicated envoy to the Jakarta-based ASEAN, Ambassador Marie-Louise Hannan. While Canada had established the function of ambassador to ASEAN in 2009, this was carried out by Canada’s ambassador to Indonesia.
“Given the need for increased understanding of the importance of the region to Canada, the Committee believes that the dedicated Canadian ambassador to ASEAN will also be able to make a real contribution to education and advocacy in Canada about Southeast Asia,” said the Senate committee on foreign affairs and international trade in its June 2015 report entitled Securing Canada's place in Asia-Pacific: A Focus on Southeast Asia.
What’s with Canada’s renewed interest in the region?
Ambassador Hannan cited 3 reasons for her country's renewed interest in the region – ASEAN’s geopolitical and economic significance and Canada’s official development assistance program.
Hannan said Canada gives importance to the “security profile” in the region, which has been marred by maritime and territorial disputes.
“There is geopolitical significance in what happens within the ASEAN. The security profile in the region is significant to Canada. It’s very important to be interested in and to engage, to understand what’s going on within this region,” Hannan said during the 2017 Reporting ASEAN media forum on Friday, February 17.
The second reason, Hannan said, is the economic growth in the region.
“The economic importance, definitely we’ve cited the number of people here. The demographics of this region are very interesting to Canada and to other dialogue partners,” Hannan said.
In 2015, ASEAN established the Asean Economic Community (AEC), which aims to have a freer flow of goods, services, investment, capital, and skilled labor in the region.
“You’ve got a big demographic boom of young, technology adapters, who engage to the world. The coming of social media, it’s actually here, people are engaged on so many levels already that if you’re not part of this wave, the world has left you behind,” she added.
Another factor, she said, is the country’s official development assistance to ASEAN countries.
“Southeast Asia still does have a significant number of people living below the poverty line. Canada as a country has official development assistance program and we want to work with ASEAN countries and engage with them to help address that problem,” Hannan said, citing the 120 million people in the region living below the poverty line.
In the 2015 Senate report, the Senate committee on foreign affairs agreed with the continued assistance program in the region, saying it would be a “win-win” case for both parties.
“Overall, given Canada’s long track record and expertise, the Committee considers that continued development cooperation amounts to a real Canadian value added in the region,” it said. – Rappler.com