Saturday, February 24, 2018

Canada Should Look East? Um, Maybe Not

Jeez, what a bad week for Justin Trudeau in India--he looks silly wearing traditional Indian garb, his wife posed with a convicted terrorist who also had a dinner invite, he gets snubbed for much of the time, and Canadian-Indian relations don't look good.  He also tried to use the Quebec example to analogize with Punjab, but since the only violence Quebec saw was nearly fifty years ago and was limited to one death and a bunch of mailboxes, perhaps not?

I am not going to overreact and say this happened because getting pics is more important than anything else.  I will say that Trudeau needs to leave the home game at home (pandering to the Sikh voters in Canada) and focus on the national interest when abroad. Oh, and he needs to shake up his team since this is the third flubbed Asia trip in a row--Japan, China and now India.  I would like to blame it on how much effort the government has put in the "manage and mitigate Trump" effort, but I do believe there are enough officials in the Canadian government to do two things at once.

It all makes me think that the pressure for Canada to be not just an Atlantic country but a Pacific one may be wrong--maybe Canada should do what it does best and not do what it is bad at as European and North American visits tend to be far less problematic.  I have no idea why.  Maybe the next government should go east, but this one should not venture beyond Hawaii?  Ok, that's a bit much too.  Still, there is a pattern here, and it is disturbing.

After spending an hour listening to the demographic trends the other day, where the biggest sources
of immigrants to Canada are the Philippines at #1, India and then China, Canada must pay attention to Asia.  Also, we can't ignore these markets.  I have been arguing that Canada should focus more on India than China if one wants more market access since the former requires far less compromising of Canada's values.  That may have to wait now, thanks, but the larger point remains.  Likewise, Asia matters since the most likely threat of a major war that disrupts the international economy and gets millions of people killed happens to be in Asia.  So, we can't ignore it.

So, how does Canada do Asia better?
  1. Find out who was responsible for organizing the past three trips and fire them or move them to the most irrelevant desk.
  2. Focus on sealing the deals that are there rather than risking them for marginal gains.  Don't travel to a summit where deals are supposed to be signed if you don't expect to sign a deal.
  3. Do not use these visits to play to specific audiences back home.  Pretend to be head of state and not just the head of the government (snarky, pedant Canadian institutions point).
  4. Build on Japan--that is the country that has the most common interests and also least implicated by Canadian politics.  It may not pay off for particular voting groups, but not everything does.
  5. Canada has a fair amount of academic expertise on Asia so maybe consult those folks and share your plans so that they can serve as a common sense filter.  Because eight days* mostly in Indian garb?  What is Hindi for oy vey?

*  I, for one, don't mind him bringing his family, but eight days in one country? Any country?  Nope, no.  way too much.


Rob Chasen said...

Hindi, not Hindu.

Anonymous said...

I am of the opinion that any international trip that doesn't get you humiliated by the country's court jester (psst, Hi Mitt! is ultimately a forgettable one. But they got awfully close.