Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly says Canada needs to bolster its influence on the world stage, especially in the face of a shifting global context, with the war in Ukraine, and a complex relationship with China.
Joly told CTV’s Question Period host Vassy Kapelos, in a wide-ranging interview airing Sunday, she’s working domestically to make sure Canada’s diplomats “are well tooled to do their job,” while also focusing on key issues abroad, namely when it comes to Ukraine, the Indo-Pacific region, and the Arctic.
“What we’re seeing is that the world’s power structures are moving, and therefore we need to be there to defend our interests without compromising our values, and we need to increase our influence,” Joly said.
She also said much of that fluctuating power structure stems from China and the Indo-Pacific region.
While neither Joly, nor Canada’s Ambassador to China Jennifer May, said they would consider China and adversary — with both instead describing the relationship as “complex” — allegations of Chinese interference in Canadian politics in recent months have put the two countries at odds.
Many countries in the world are also grappling with how they plan to deal with China, including Canada’s closest ally, the United States.
American officials only very recently have said they want to reset the relationship through diplomacy. In that vein, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Beijing last week, after a trip in February was postponed due to the Chinese balloon incident.
Joly would not say whether a similar trip is in the works for her, saying instead there are “some key issues” that need to be addressed first, such as allegations of interference by Beijing in Canada’s democracy.
But the foreign affairs minister did say there are other topics on which Canada and China agree — such as the environment — so they need to maintain a diplomatic relationship.
“It is about making sure that we increase Canada’s influence on the world,” she said. “If we are able to protect more interests, making sure that we push our values, we will be winning, but we need to engage on a series of diplomatic conversations, be at different diplomatic tables, to be able to have that influence.”
Joly pointed to the federal government’s Indo-Pacific Strategy, published last fall, as a guide for how Canada plans to deal with the superpower going forward.
“I think that our Indo-Pacific Strategy changed the game in the sense that I think for a long time Canada was not necessarily seen as a reliable partner in the region, by the region itself,” Joly said. “We were there sometimes and leave afterwards, and now we’ve committed $2.3 billion, which is a very big investment.”
“We’ve heard clearly from a lot of people in the region and in Washington that this is a really good strategy,” she added.
Joly said diplomacy as part of Canada’s “security architecture,” and likened it to preventative medicine.
“There are real tensions in the world right now,” she said. “We need to make sure that we invest in diplomacy, and diplomacy is not only talking to your friends, it’s actually having these tough conversations, but at the end, that calms things down.”
“My goal is definitely to be able to have these open lines of communications, but I know that Canadians are preoccupied, they’re frustrated also,” she also said. “And I take stock of that, but my job is to make sure that in the short-, medium- and long run, that I protect the interests of the country, and that’s what I will be doing when it comes to our China approach.”
When pressed on whether failing to hit defence spending targets set out by the alliances of which Canada is a part — namely NATO — impedes the country’s ability to pursue its foreign policy and increase its influence, Joly said it’s important to recognize the work Canada is doing in other countries and regions, not just with NATO members.
Canada has long faced calls to increase its defence spending commitments to reach two per cent of GDP — the agreed-upon NATO goal as part of the Wales Summit Declaration in 2014 — but the Washington Post reported in April that Trudeau privately told alliance members that Canada will never meet the target.
With that 10-year commitment set to expire next year, renegotiations of the spending target are also on the agenda when NATO meets next month, and Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has signalled the two per cent target will become the floor, as opposed to a ceiling, adding pressure on Canada to commit more funds.
Joly said while it’s important to work with European and American allies through groups like NATO, Canada also works at the diplomatic and humanitarian level with other countries.
“I think that Canada’s reputation in the world is very positive,” Joly said.