Canada Strengthens Ties with ASEAN: A Foreign Policy Priority

August 9, 2014 - Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird today co-chaired with his Singapore counterpart, Foreign Minister Shanmugam, his fourth consecutive Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)-Canada Post-Ministerial Conference.

During the conference, Baird announced the expansion of Canada’s diplomatic footprint in the region to include resident representation in Cambodia and Laos, bringing a Canadian presence to all 10 ASEAN member states. Baird had earlier announced a new, dedicated Canadian ambassador to ASEAN.

“Canada’s relationship with ASEAN is one of our key foreign policy priorities,” said Baird. “With the establishment of these new diplomatic resources, Canada is well placed to build upon this important relationship in the long term.”

Canada has been a Dialogue Partner of ASEAN for 37 years. The relationship has grown to become a comprehensive partnership, which through political, security, economic and socio-cultural cooperation is fostering job creation for Canadians as well as for our Southeast Asian partners.

“Canada’s commitment to ASEAN and the Southeast Asian region is clear,” said Baird. “We look forward to this relationship reaching its full potential, including at the Leaders’ level in the ASEAN-centred East Asia Summit.”

Baird also announced additional Canadian funding toward projects aimed at helping address security issues of shared concern in Southeast Asia and to enhance the ASEAN connectivity agenda.

“We continue to expand our regional engagement in areas that support ASEAN’s community-building objectives and that contribute to fostering peace, security and prosperity,” said Baird. “Economies flourish and people prosper in regions that are secure, stable, and where the rule of law is respected, both within and between states.”

For more information on Canada’s engagement with ASEAN, please visit Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). For more information on Baird’s visit, please consult Baird to Travel to East Asia to Talk Security and Prosperity. See also Address by Minister Baird at the Opening of the ASEAN-Canada Post-Ministerial Conference.

A backgrounder on some of the newly announced projects follows.

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Backgrounder - Security Projects

Baird announced additional Canadian funding in the amount of $14 million to help address security issues of shared concern in Southeast Asia and to enhance the ASEAN connectivity agenda. The projects include those to mitigate biological and nuclear threats; disrupt illicit flows while protecting legitimate trade; combat human smuggling activities; improve regional cyber-security tools; and work with our ASEAN partners to address the “foreign fighter” phenomenon and radicalization.

Another key focus of new Canadian programming will be bolstering border management capacities, particularly in ASEAN’s CMLV (Cambodia, Burma, Laos and Vietnam) states. Together, these projects will complement those of ASEAN to improve regional connectivity through information technology and the safe and secure movement of people and goods across borders, by sea, air or land.

Mitigate biological, chemical, and nuclear threats - $2.6 million

Several projects will be implemented to address the threat of biological, chemical and nuclear threats in the ASEAN region. These projects will provide chemical detection training and equipment, expertise to respond to biological threats and emerging diseases, as well as training in and development of specialized measures to mitigate the illicit trafficking of nuclear/radioactive materials and dual-use items. As a result of these initiatives, national capacities will be bolstered to prevent, detect and respond to a range of WMD threats in Southeast Asia.

Disrupt illicit flows while protecting legitimate trade - $4.4 million

Illicit flows must be prevented to facilitate and promote the free movement of people and goods. To this end, Canada will help to secure national and regional borders to ensure the legitimate flow of people, goods and services while mitigating the threats that can arise with more open borders. Air travel and the shipment of goods represent a target for terrorists and an avenue for exploitation by international criminal networks. Only a fraction of the over 500 million containers in transit globally by sea are inspected to detect illicit trafficking, and people are often smuggled aboard to bypass national border controls. These projects will serve to minimize an important barrier to foreign investment and economic development by strengthening border security and export control measures in the region.

Borders Initiative - $2 million

Canada will work to secure the borders between ASEAN’s CMLV member states to ensure the legitimate flow of people, goods and services, while mitigating the threats that can arise with more open borders, including the trans-boundary spread of diseases. The projects will focus on enhancing capacities to detect and combat human smuggling rings, drug trafficking and other activities by organized criminal networks; improving border controls to reduce the ability of criminal and terrorist groups to cross borders; and preventing, detecting and responding to serious threats to regional and international health and security posed by the spread of trans-boundary diseases.

Combat human smuggling activities - $1.6 million

Canada has been an active partner in the fight against human smuggling in Southeast Asia. Canadian expertise has been deployed to build the capacity of local authorities to disrupt, interdict and deter human smuggling ventures destined for Canada. The additional funding will continue the existing successful partnership with the International Organization for Migration to strengthen border security and management and train front-line law enforcement officials to combat the illicit movement of people.

Address the “foreign fighter” phenomenon and radicalization - $2.3 million

Similar to Canada, countries in Southeast Asia may be confronted with foreign fighters returning to their home countries further radicalized and with the training and experience to undertake terrorist attacks. Canada will foster greater cooperation with key transit states to improve information sharing about foreign fighters in transit and to strengthen the ability of source, transit and destination states to detect and disrupt the travel of these individuals.

Southeast Asia also faces significant challenges related to the detention and release of violent extremist offenders. Since violent extremist offenders are often mixed in with the general prison population while incarcerated, some detainees have been able to radicalize other prisoners. Through the provision of specialized training and equipment, Canada will work to help mitigate the threat of radicalization by denying recruitment opportunities for terrorist networks operating in Southeast Asia.