Partnering with Japan for a Free and Open Indo-Pacific

Partnering with Japan for a Free and Open Indo-Pacific
Japanese Ambassador Kimihiro Ishikane spoke at CIPS on 7 March 2019.

On March 7, 2019, Japanese Ambassador Kimihiro Ishikane gave a lecture at CIPS entitled “Japan and Canada: Strategic Partners in the Indo-Pacific?” The question mark is perhaps the most important part of the title. At this 90th anniversary of Canada–Japan diplomatic relations, the two countries are strong allies with shared interests and values. But, there is room for improvement. Do we, as Canadians, wish to elevate that relationship to a Strategic Partnership for a Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP)?

Ambassador Ishikane began with a glance at history, from the 19th century when the first Japanese immigrant arrived in British Columbia and Canadian missionaries founded schools in Japan. Most Canadians think of Japan in terms of World War II, but our two countries were actually allies in WWI. Canada was also a signatory to the 1952 San Francisco Peace Treaty that ended the war in Asia and set the terms for Japan’s subsequent political and economic developments. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau had high level meetings with Japanese Prime Ministers Kakuei Tanaka (1974) and Takeo Miki (1976). In 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made an official visit to Japan. Finally, Canada and Japan were founding members of the new Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTTP) in 2018.

Ambassador Ishikane explored our multi-faceted relationship in terms of statistics in trade, investment, tourism, and student exchange. Canadians will not be surprised to learn that natural resources dominate our exports to Japan. Japan in 2017 was Canada’s largest market for coal and wheat. Japanese investment in Canada is dominated by the automobile industry. Nearly half of the automobiles manufactured in Canada are Japanese brands. Canada has been a net exporter of Japanese brand automobiles since 1993, with 98% of those Canadian-made cars going to the United States. Over 300,000 tourists travelled in both directions in 2017. There is an increasing number of Japanese students studying in Canada — 12,258 of them in 2017 — but only a few hundred Canadians studying in Japan. There is much basis for co-operation, but where do we go from here?

When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised the world that “Canada is Back,” he surely had in mind the legacy of former Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson. Pearson, in office from 1963 to 1968, is remembered for internationalism, commitment to peace, and realism. He received a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in the Suez Canal Crisis and the creation of the first United Nations peacekeeping force. A strong advocate of protecting democracy and preventing inter-state conflict, he looked back in his memoirs on how he faced threats from the Soviet Union: “To ignore this danger, or to refuse to accept any commitments for collective action to meet it, while playing our part in positive action in the United Nations or elsewhere to bring about a better state of affairs, would have been demonstrably wrong and perilously short-sighted” (Pearson 2015, 25).

The Indo-Pacific region is again facing threats from aggressive states. Japan, very conscious of the risks, has been actively promoting the Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy based on the rule of law (including freedom of navigation), the pursuit of economic prosperity, and a commitment to peace and stability. Ambassador Ishikane reminded us that Canada, with its long coast along the Pacific Ocean, has an important role to play.

There are several ways in which Canada, true to our Pearsonian heritage, can make a contribution to peaceful, rule-based order. Three strategies, as follows, further Canadian interests through strategic partnership with Japan:

  1. Freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific. As ships and flights cross between Canada and the Pacific, Japan is in many ways the gateway to Asia. It is thus in Canada’s best interests to collaborate with Japan in terms of maritime security and defence in the adjacent East China and South China seas. In 2010, Canada and Japan signed a Joint Declaration on Political, Peace and Security Cooperation, which included a commitment to regular bilateral meetings. Beginning in 2017, Canada participated in the Kaedex naval exercises with Japan, advancing interoperability with the Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Forces. This type of co-operation is necessary in light of increased maritime incursions, missile threats, and unilateral declarations of Air Defence Identification Zones by potentially hostile forces in the region.
  2. Freedom of trade with like-minded allies. Canada and Japan are founding members of the CPTPP. Although Canadians were disappointed by President Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from this agreement, we can surely benefit from deepening and broadening the scope of the CPTPP to all countries of the Pacific Rim willing to trade according to the principles of the agreement. We should encourage the United States to join. But, beyond that, we can also look to democratic Taiwan and South Korea as potential new members. And, if we pursue a more comprehensive Free Trade Agreement in the Indo-Pacific, Japan should be the first priority.
  3. Carbon reduction to address climate change. Since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, Japan has been moving away from nuclear power, but increased use of coal-burning energy only contributes to global warming. Japan is already Canada’s largest market for coal, but liquified natural gas (LNG) is even better because it has lower carbon emissions. Fortunately, LNG Canada is developing infrastructure to bring Canadian LNG to Japan. By sourcing LNG from Canada, Japan can also avoid the problems of transporting energy products through strategic choke points in the South China Sea.

We cannot ignore the very real threats in the Indo-Pacific to democracy, human rights, and rule of law. Pearson thought it would be short-sighted to ignore risks and refuse commitments to collective security. The US has backed away from the CPTPP, but this provides Canada with increased opportunity to make a difference in the region. Making Japan into a genuine partner and investing fully in assuring a free and open Indo-Pacific, is one of the best ways to affirm that Canada is back to stay.

Pearson, Lester B. 2015. Mike: The Memoirs of the Rt. Hon. Lester B. Pearson, Volume Two: 1948–1957. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Scott Simon, Ph.D., is Professor in the School of Sociological and Anthropological Studies, Co-holder of the Chair in Taiwan Studies, and Researcher at CIPS, University of Ottawa. Proficient in both Mandarin Chinese and Japanese, he has conducted research on various social and political issues in China, Taiwan, and Japan. He is the author of three books about Taiwan.

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