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Trudeau government unveils long-awaited plan to confront an ‘increasingly disruptive’ China

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Canada’s long-awaited Indo-Pacific strategy describes China as “an increasingly disruptive global power” on the world stage — a social and economic force that’s too big to ignore but is also increasingly focused on bending international rules to suit its own interests.

Using some surprisingly blunt language, the strategy says the Canadian government needs to be “clear-eyed” about China’s objectives in the Far East and elsewhere. It promises to spend almost half a billion dollars over five years on improving military and intelligence co-operation with allies in the region.

“China’s rise, enabled by the same international rules and norms that it now increasingly disregards, has had an enormous impact on the Indo-Pacific, and it has ambitions to become the leading power in the region,” says the 26-page document, which was provided to the media in advance of its formal release in Vancouver on Sunday.

“China is making large-scale investments to establish its economic influence, diplomatic impact, offensive military capabilities and advanced technologies. China is looking to shape the international order into a more permissive environment for interests and values that increasingly depart from ours.”

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The strategy document also says that “China’s sheer size and influence makes co-operation necessary to address some of the world’s existential pressures, such as climate change and biodiversity loss, global health and nuclear proliferation.”

In that respect, Canada’s foreign policy blueprint mirrors the approaches taken by its closest allies, including the United States, which last February released its own vision for engagement in the region.

 

‘Ambitious’ Indo-Pacific plan aims to increase diplomatic and military presence, foreign affairs minister says

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly speaks with Rosemary Barton Live about the federal government’s plan for the Indo-Pacific region. She says the plan, which is set for a decade, aims to increase Canada’s diplomatic and military presence.

Where the American and Canadian strategies differ is in how Canada’s document spells out that it will “at all times unapologetically defend our national interest” and that its views will be “shaped by a realistic and clear-eyed assessment of today’s China.”

Many observers — including some prominent Liberals — have urged the government over the past few years to maintain the pro-business and investment relationship with Beijing that has built up over the last two decades.

The new strategy document, however, appears to reflect the lessons of the bruising international clashes that have driven relations between Canada and China into the deep freeze: the arrest and extradition fight involving Chinese telecom executive Meng Wanzhou; China’s retaliatory detention of Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig; and even the lecture Chinese President Xi Jinping recently delivered to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — an event caught on camera.

“In areas of profound disagreement, we will challenge China, including when it engages in coercive behaviour — economic or otherwise — ignores human rights obligations or undermines our national security interests and those of partners in the region,” the strategy document says.

In an interview airing Sunday on CBC’s Rosemary Barton Live, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly described the overall plan as “pragmatic” and principled.

“Our approach is clear, you know, and we have a clear framework which is essentially about protecting our national interests without compromising our values and principles,” Joly said.

“So what I’ve said many times at this point is we will challenge when we ought to and we will co-operate when we must.”

Foreign investment, foreign interference

Overall, the strategy envisions about $2 billion in investments to, among other things, strengthen Canadian “infrastructure, democracy and Canadian citizens against foreign interference.”

It proposes changes to the Investment Canada Act to prevent state-owned enterprises and other foreign entities that threaten Canada’s national security from taking over critical Canadian industries and intellectual property. All federal departments are being told to review Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) with China and other countries to ensure Canada’s national interests are being protected.

The strategy upholds Canada’s One-China policy when it comes to Taiwan. The island — a democracy — faces increasing threats from Beijing, which has not ruled out the use of military force in its drive to unify Taiwan with the mainland.

“Canada will oppose unilateral actions that threaten the status quo in the Taiwan Strait,” the strategy says. On Sunday, Defence Minister Anita Anand skirted questions about Canada’s willingness to defend Taiwan, as well as whether the government was concerned about a backlash from China due to Canada’s increased presence.

“We will ensure that the region remains one that is stable and will continue to grow economically,” she said.

The Ground Force of the Eastern Theatre Command of China's People's Liberation Army conducts a long-range live-fire drill into the Taiwan Strait, from an undisclosed location in this photo provided by the army on August 4, 2022.
The Eastern Theatre Command of China’s People’s Liberation Army conducts a long-range live-fire drill into the Taiwan Strait from an undisclosed location, in this handout photo released on Aug. 4. (People’s Liberation Army handout/Reuters)

Also on Sunday, Joly drew a direct line between Canada’s involvement in the Pacific and another major focus of its foreign policy: the Arctic. She said closer ties with South Korea and Japan would support Canada’s goal of maintaining sovereignty in the region, in light of increased interest from countries like China.

“More Canadian men and women will be in the region to ensure peace and also uphold the rule of law,” she said.

The strategy document has been years in the making and was eagerly anticipated by Canada’s allies in the region, including Japan and South Korea, which have been lobbying for deeper co-operation. It also contains a section on India, which includes a commitment to work toward a new trade agreement.

The Liberal government promised when first elected in 2015 to develop a new approach to China after years of prickly relations under the former Conservative administration.

But Canada has struggled to figure out how to engage with an increasingly assertive — sometimes belligerent — China and its supreme leader Xi, who has openly rejected elements of Western-style governance, such as the separation of powers.

The Liberals signalled a plan to increase Canada’s military commitment to the region during the prime minister’s recent overseas trip to the G20 Summit.

HMCS Winnipeg, HNLMS Evertsen and RFA Tidespring are shown in formation on Sept. 9, 2021, during Exercise Pacific Crown. In the course of the exercise, Canada and the United States each sent a warship through the Taiwan Strait. (UK MOD Crown)

That commitment is outlined in broad strokes in the strategy document through promises to boost engagement in international military exercises and to increase the number of Canadian warships deployed in the region.

There’s also a pledge to help smaller countries in the region build up their security forces, presumably with the help of Canadian training. That pledge is similar to the promise the Liberal government made in 2017 to help increase the training and quality of United Nations peacekeepers — a promise that has gone unfulfilled.

The strategy says the military commitments being made are tied to the ongoing review of Canada’s defence policy, ordered in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February. That review has yet to be made public.

The defence and security promises in the Indo-Pacific Strategy are being made at a time when the Canadian military is short 10,000 members and is struggling to recruit new ones.

Joly said the government will make the strategy work and will be “putting money where our mouth is.”

Earlier this month, China’s embassy in Canada responded to a speech made by Joly that previewed the new strategy, saying it “contained a lot of negative contents related to China that distorted the truth, exaggerated the so-called ‘China threat’ and discredited China’s image, which constituted a gross interference in China’s internal affairs. China is deeply concerned about this and firmly opposes it.”

The strategy was welcomed by the U.S. ambassador to Canada, David Cohen, in a statement Sunday.

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UPEI students offered $1,500 to leave residence during Canada Games – CBC.ca

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Some UPEI students are earning extra money during the mid-semester break this year, simply by packing up and leaving campus. 

The 2023 Canada Winter Games Host Society offered $1,500 each to students living in Andrew Hall if they give up their residence rooms to make space for arriving athletes. 

The students have to leave a few days before the break starts, on Feb. 17, and can return March 7. They also had to give up their meal plan for the duration.

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Many athletes are staying at UPEI’s new 260-bed residence, built to meet accommodation requirements for the Games’ temporary athlete village.

But Wayne Carew, chair of the Games, said there are 120 more athletes coming than originally planned. 

A portrait of a man standing outside, wearing a jacket with the Canada Winter Games logo.
Organizers want the athletes all to stay on the UPEI campus so they can have ‘the experience of a lifetime,’ says Wayne Carew, chair of the 2023 Canada Winter Games Host Society. (Tony Davis/CBC)

“We ended up getting 44 rooms [in Andrew Hall] and that’s great,” said Carew.

He said the athletes staying at UPEI “are going to have a wild experience on the campus of the beautiful University of Prince Edward Island.” 

Carew said the costs of doing this are a “lot cheaper” than arranging accommodations elsewhere. But he said the main reason is to provide all athletes the same, “once-in-a-lifetime” experience.

“Where they live, the food and the camaraderie and the experience of a lifetime: that’s what they’ll remember in 20 years’ time about P.E.I.,” he said.

‘Pretty good deal’

Some students were eager to take the organizers up on their offer.

“I’m going away to Florida during the two-week break anyways. So I was like, ‘May as well let them use my room then,'” said Hannah Somers. 

Portrait of a man in a toque and a grey sweater standing in front of a residence hall.
UPEI student Benji Dueck is moving in with a friend during the Canada Games so he can get the $1,500 offer. (Tony Davis/CBC)

“It’s $1,500. Pretty nice,” said Benji Dueck, who agreed to vacate the room with his roommate.  “We’re moving out, living with a friend in the city. So, sounds like a pretty good deal to me.”

As part of the agreement, the students had to clear out their rooms. Canada Games organizers made arrangements so students could store their belongings.

But not all students thought it was a good deal.

Portrait of a woman in a black down jacket standing in front of a residence hall.
UPEI student Maria de Torres won’t be leaving residence during the Canada Games. ‘It’s just too hard to pack up. It’s just too hectic,’ she says. (Tony Davis/CBC)

“I’m not giving up my spot in Andrew Hall for $1,500,” said Maria de Torres. “It’s just too hard to pack up. It’s just too hectic. And since I’m an international student, I got a lot [of things] right now.”

Shelby Dyment is also staying in Andrew Hall. Dyment said she and her roommate are working as residence life assistants during the mid-semester break and she’s also doing directed study, so she has to stay on campus.

“There’s a lot of people doing it. It’s just for our situation it just wasn’t working for what we were doing,” she said.

In a statement, UPEI said that enough students had accepted the offer to host all the athletes. 

It said the host society made all the arrangements with the students, including paying for their incentives and arranging for storage.

Organizers expect about 3,600 athletes, coaches and officials to participate in the Games. The event will run from Feb. 18 to March 5.

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Germany won't be a 'party to the war' amid tanks exports to Ukraine: Ambassador – CTV News

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The German ambassador to Canada says Germany will not become “a party to the conflict” in Ukraine, despite it and several other countries announcing they’ll answer President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s pleas for tanks, possibly increasing the risk of Russian escalation.

Sabine Sparwasser said it’s a “real priority” for Germany to support Ukraine, but that it’s important to be in “lockstep” coordination with other allied countries.

“There is a clear line for Germany,” she told CTV’s Question Period host Vassy Kapelos, in an interview airing Sunday. “We do want not want to be a party to the conflict.”

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“We want to support, we want to do everything we can, but we, and NATO, do not want to be a party to the war,” she also said. “That’s I think, the line we’re trying to follow.”

Defence Minister Anita Anand announced this week Canada will send four Leopard 2 battle tanks — with the possibility of more in the future — to Ukraine, along with Canadian Armed Forces members to train Ukrainian soldiers on how to use them.

Canada first needed permission from Berlin to re-export any of its 82 German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. After a meeting of 50 defence leaders in Germany earlier this month, it was unclear whether Germany would give the green light.

But following what German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called “intensive consultations,” Germany announced on Jan. 25 it would send tanks to Ukraine, and the following day, Canada followed suit. It is now joining several other countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and Poland, which are sending several dozen tanks to Ukraine.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said this week the tanks would allow Ukraine to “significantly strengthen their combat capabilities.”

“It demonstrates also the unit and the resolve of NATO allies in partners in providing support to Ukraine,” he said.

Meanwhile Sparwasser said Germany is “walking that fine line” of avoiding steps that could prompt escalation from Russia, while supporting Ukraine, and staying out of the war themselves.

“I think it’s very important to see that Germany is very determined and has a real priority in supporting Ukraine in its struggle for freedom and sovereignty,” Sparwasser said. “But we also put a high priority on going it together with our friends and allies.”

Sparwasser said despite warnings from Russia that sending tanks to Ukraine will cause an escalation, Germany is within international law — specifically Article 51 of the United Nations Charter — to provide support to Ukraine.

“Ukraine is under attack has the right to self defence, and other nations can come in and provide Ukraine with the means to defend itself,” Sparwasser said. “So in international law terms, this is a very clear cut case.”

She added that considering “Russia doesn’t respect international law,” it’s a more impactful deterrent to Russia, ahead of an expected spring offensive, to see several countries come together in support of Ukraine.

With files from the Associated Press

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COVID: Canada retaining Evusheld – CTV News

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While Health Canada says it is “aware” of the U.S. decision to withdraw the emergency use of Evusheld, a drug by AstraZeneca used to help prevent COVID-19 infection— the agency is maintaining its approval, citing the differences in variant circulation between Canada and the U.S.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced on Jan. 26 that its emergency use authorization of the drug was pulled due to its inefficacy in treating “certain” COVID-19 variants.

The FDA stated in a release on its website that as the XBB.1.5. variant, nicknamed “Kraken”, is making up the majority of cases in the country, the use of Evusheld is “not expected to provide protection” and therefore not worth exposing the public to possible side effects of the drug, like allergic reactions.

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In an email to CTVNews.ca, Health Canada said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration pulled the drug as the main variant of concern in the U.S. is XBB.1.5.

“Dominant variants in the [U.S.] may be different from those circulating in Canada,” the federal agency said in an email. “The most recent epidemiological data in Canada (as of January 1, 2023) indicate that BA.5 (Omicron) subvariants continue to account for more than 89 per cent of reported cases.”

On Jan. 6 the FDA said in press release that certain variants are not neutralized by Evusheld and cautioned people who are exposed to XBB.1.5. On Jan. 26, the FDA then updated its website by saying it would be limiting the use of Evusheld.

“Evusheld is not currently authorized for use in the U.S. until further notice by the Agency,” the FDA website states.

On Jan. 17, Health Canada issued a “risk communication” on Evusheld, explaining how it may not be effective against certain Omicron subvariants when used as a preventative measure or treatment for COVID-19.

“Decisions regarding the use of EVUSHELD should take into consideration what is known about the characteristics of the circulating COVID-19 variants, including geographical prevalence and individual exposure,” Health Canada said in an email.

Health Canada says Evusheld does neutralize against Omicron subvariant BA.2, which according to the agency, is the dominant variant in many communities in Canada.

The drug was introduced for prevention measures specifically for people who have weaker immune systems and are unlikely to be protected by a COVID-19 vaccine. It can only be given to people 12 years and older.

“EVUSHELD is not a substitute for vaccination in individuals for whom COVID-19 vaccination is recommended,” the agency’s website reads.

Health Canada says no drug, including Evusheld, is a substitute for vaccination.

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