Address by Minister Baird to the Asia Society of Hong Kong

March 13, 2013 - Hong Kong

Check Against Delivery

Canada in the Asia-Pacific Century

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a great pleasure to be back in Hong Kong and to build on Prime Minister [Stephen] Harper’s recent trip.

With 295,000 Canadian citizens in Hong Kong, this is truly “Canada’s city in Asia.”

I am very grateful to the Asia Society of Hong Kong for inviting me to speak here today and for organising such an impressive gathering.

In all seriousness, I’m excited to be here in Hong Kong, which is one of my favourite cities in the world.

First, allow me to share with you how Canada’s current and future engagement in this dynamic part of the world is changing.

I don’t need to tell anyone in this room what you already know: the world’s centre of gravity—economic, political and demographic—is shifting to Asia. Or, some might rightly say, back to Asia after a brief hiatus of a few hundred years.

I can tell you, our government is tremendously excited by the opportunities the region offers for our long-term prosperity.

We are acutely aware that the growth of trade and markets is helping to lift millions in the region out of poverty and to create a middle class at a pace unparalleled in human history.

The rise of Asia’s middle class means greater access to education and to health care. People are benefiting from better jobs and better connections with the rest of the world.

Incomes are rising. Urban populations are swelling. Economic freedoms, as well as political ones, are being shared more widely.

Asia’s rise is transforming and enriching hundreds of millions of lives at breathtaking speed. And that means everyone’s stake in Asia has become greater.

I can tell you the Canadian government gets it. Canadian business gets it, and Canadians are coming here much more frequently to partner and do business in Asia.

We get that Asia is full of new opportunities to expand Canada’s economic prosperity. We know that Canada must take an active role in this part of the world. It’s simply not a choice; it’s not an option; it’s a national imperative.

As Asia continues to prosper, the implications for Canada are immediate, and they are profound.

Let me share with you why our government is making this region a foreign policy priority and what we’re actually doing on four fronts:

  • trade
  • deepening relations with our partners
  • regional security and governance
  • promoting Canadian values

Canada’s Trade Agenda in Asia

Our government has been leading the most ambitious trade agenda in Canadian history.

We’re aggressive in our pursuits to build long-term prosperity for Canadians, and we don’t apologize for it. We also recognize that trade relationships work best when they are win-win propositions.

And things are looking good: Canada’s trade with Asia has more than doubled in a generation.

And Asian investment into Canada has grown by over 400 percent in the last two decades.

We see great potential for Canada to play a role in supporting the region’s economic expansion and modernization. Canada can be particularly strong in meeting the needs of Asia’s rising middle class—supporting its building of cities and related infrastructure, communications and IT needs, offering world-class education programs, financial services, diversified energy supplies and green technologies, and agriculture and agri-food products as diets evolve and improve.

Canadian companies are clearly demonstrating that they can meet the demands of Asian economies in these important areas, including in Hong Kong, where they have made major contributions.

For example, you might not know that Canadian engineers designed 90 percent of the traffic control and surveillance systems for Hong Kong’s major highways and tunnels, including the award-winning Route 8 project, on which Canadian companies Delcan [Corporation], IBI [Group Inc.], Buckland & Taylor [Ltd.] and RDWI [Rowan Williams Davies & Irwin Inc.], and the University of Western Ontario all made important contributions.

In all likelihood, the last time you flew into Hong Kong, your pilot was trained on CAE [Inc.] flight simulators from Canada.

We even find a way to make it onto your plates from time to time, with exports such as the seafood we just enjoyed.

Canadian companies—big and small—are making great strides in finding commercial success in Hong Kong, in all sectors.

But we recognize that, in an era of continued economic uncertainty, we must do more to diversify our trade with growing Asian economies.

While we have completed six free trade agreements with nine countries since 2006, we have yet to complete one with any country in Asia. While our trade and investment ties to the region are growing, they have yet to realize their full potential.

We know that this region cannot be taken for granted. We have no room for complacency.

For this reason, we have made trade with Asia a top foreign policy priority.

Under the stewardship of my esteemed colleague, the Minister of International Trade, Ed Fast, Canada is pursuing agreements with India, Japan and South Korea and is pursuing exploratory discussions with Thailand.

We have joined the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations with 10 countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

And we are deepening our trade relationships with China, India, Japan, South Korea, the ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] region and, of course, with Hong Kong, among others.

Deepening Relations with Our Partners in Asia

You know—as we know—that relationships are the currency of business in this part of the world.

Relationships matter. They build trust and understanding, help avoid and resolve differences, identify opportunities for partnerships and help get business done.

I’ve learned that effective diplomacy is based on solid relationships as much as business is. To establish these relationships, we need to be present and visible in Asia.

My first major bilateral visit as foreign minister two years ago was to China. I have since returned six times and will return frequently. This is more than just symbolism. We understand that this type of high-level engagement is what’s required.

And it’s a commitment shared by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, my Cabinet colleagues and provincial premiers, many of whom visited Hong Kong this past fall as part of the Council of the Federation mission to greater China.

We have made some 100 Cabinet-level or prime ministerial visits to Asia in the past four years alone.

Of course, it takes more than regular visits to build a presence in the region. That’s why we’re investing in our diplomatic and related networks in Asia.

Despite this being a time of fiscal restraint at home, we have more than doubled the number of offices Canada has in China and India. The proportion of resources we have dedicated to supporting our Asian engagements is at an all-time high.

We will open trade offices and diplomatic missions where we need them now and in the future.

We have just opened a consulate in Bangalore [India], have upgraded our presence in Chongqing [China] and are opening our first-ever embassy in Yangon, Burma. We have expanded existing missions in priority countries like Indonesia and Thailand. In fact, Canada has the second-largest network of offices in India of any country. We have 11 points of service in greater China, and we hope to expand our network even further.

We are also recognizing, and capitalizing upon, the positive role Canada’s private sector, universities and civil society can play through their engagement abroad.

These important Canadian networks and actors are able to convey our values, advance concrete Canadian interests, and bring jobs and prosperity to the communities in which they operate.

Contributing to Security Cooperation in Asia

Just as we know that Asia is critical to creating expanded economic opportunity for Canadians, we also know that economic opportunity is enhanced by stable and secure markets in regions devoid of conflict. Security and prosperity go hand in hand.

And we’re making important contributions to foster peace and security in the region.

We’re elevating our participation at the Shangri-La Dialogue to the ministerial level and regularly participate in the Rim of the Pacific Exercise. Our government is deeply committed to enhancing cooperation between partner forces and to increasing military preparedness. We’re actively participating in APEC’s Counter-Terrorism Task Force and co-chaired an ASEAN regional forum on counterterrorism last year.

We have established regular counterterrorism consultations with China and India to deepen our cooperation. We’re helping states prevent and respond to terrorism by providing training and equipment, and technical and legal assistance.

We are contributing to our partners’ efforts to combat human smuggling throughout Southeast Asia before it arrives on our shores.

We’re supporting the creation of multi-agency port intelligence units in Indonesia, Cambodia and Thailand. Canadian equipment and training has already had an impact in fighting callous organized crime groups that prey on vulnerable human beings.

We’re working to prevent shocks as diverse as financial crises, natural disasters and humanitarian catastrophes before they happen. This is far less costly than responding after the fact.

That’s why, for instance, in the Philippines, Canada is helping to build an early-warning system to detect and reduce risks and strengthen community resilience to the effects of natural disasters.

In Vietnam, we’re helping to bolster national disaster prevention, response and mitigation measures.

And we’re contributing to the Asian Development Bank’s efforts to shield developing countries from the worst of the global economic crisis.

But we remain concerned about a much more serious threat: nuclear terrorism. It presents a significant global security challenge. That’s why we have invested in nuclear radiological security projects in the region and have been working on a project in Vietnam to convert one reactor to run on non-weapons nuclear materials. We’re helping to secure these materials.

Of course, in this region we have to remain vigilant against the provocations of North Korea. It remains one of the foremost threats to security in Asia and beyond. Last month’s third nuclear test is yet another demonstration of the regime’s recklessness and its misguided focus on developing weapons of mass destruction rather than providing for the basic needs of its people. Its ties to Iran are equally disturbing.

Canada will continue to work with partners to pursue a strong international response to North Korea’s provocation. We were pleased to see China endorse tough new sanctions against North Korea at the UN Security Council last week. We must all speak with one voice on this matter and isolate Pyongyang until or unless the regime sees the world is serious.

A Values Agenda: Promoting Freedom, Democracy, Human Rights and the Rule of Law

The fourth aspect of Canada’s engagement in Asia is the promotion of values and the tangible benefits they bring. As we look for new opportunities to create jobs, growth and long-term prosperity, we recognize that our pursuit of an activist, values-based foreign policy is a delicate balancing act.

As you can imagine, this can be a challenge in many parts of the world. But when we get it right, the results are remarkable.

Take Burma as an example, where people are engaged in a struggle to claim their individual rights, to express their views, to voice their concerns and to have a say in how they are governed.

It was only a short time ago that I first met my Burmese counterpart and asked that his government demonstrate its stated commitment to reform through concrete actions.

At that time, Canada still had the toughest sanctions of any country against Burma.

But the country undertook a steady series of important steps, responding to the urging of Canada and others. Prisoners were released, Aung San Suu Kyi’s house arrest ended, and by-elections were held that were generally free and fair.

We’re fully aware that Burma has a long road ahead, and conditions remain fragile. But it’s a road we’re ready to help them navigate.

We will soon open our first Canada embassy—ever—in Burma and are set to establish a full-service trade commissioner as part of the embassy. We have also undertaken a parliamentary exchange so Canadian experience can help build a stronger legislative apparatus in Naypyidaw.

Burma serves as an example of how Canadian values and Canadian interests are interconnected: Canada’s principled approach helped encourage reform, which in turn helped open new economic opportunities for Canadian companies and civil society.

Our commitment to support Burma and its people in their democratic development has also served to signal to our partners in Asia that Canada brings a comprehensive and constructive approach to the region.

It has demonstrated that we will act quickly and decisively to deepen relations and to bring concrete resources to bear when warranted.

It has shown that we will partner closely with Canada’s private sector to expand our engagement and to make the deepening of relationships a win-win proposition.

There are stories I could share from throughout the region. And I could point you to our recent creation of the Office of Religious Freedom, which is dedicated to promoting freedom of religion or belief around the world—our government is dedicated to promoting freedom and prosperity.

And the bottom line is that economic opportunity, whether ours or that of others, can be realized through free, transparent and open societies.

Canada and Hong Kong

Finally, I would like to say a few words about Canada’s special relationship with and fondness for Hong Kong.

Hong Kong has continued to demonstrate convincingly that economic liberalization combined with a commitment to the rule of law and good governance is a recipe for success.

At this critical juncture of Asia’s transformation—at the start of this Asia-Pacific Century—Hong Kong stands as a beacon and an inspiration to others.

For these reasons, Canada strongly encourages and supports Hong Kong’s determination to continue its path toward a strengthened democracy. We are strong believers in the continued relevance of the “one country, two systems” policy, and we believe that its example to the region remains vital.

I know I don’t have to tell you that Canada and Hong Kong have a positive, long-standing and growing relationship.

It is no exaggeration to consider Hong Kong an extension of Canada in Asia. It is equally true for residents of Hong Kong to consider Canada their natural home in North America.

Whether we take the 2,000 Canadians who fought to defend this island during the Battle of Hong Kong, the half million Canadians of Hong Kong descent living in Canada, the close to 300,000 Canadians residing in Hong Kong or the 180 Canadian companies physically established in Hong Kong, it is clear that our relationship is built upon the bonds of a truly special friendship and enduring mutual interest.

This relationship is more important than it has ever been.

Hong Kong continues to play its historic and compelling role as a gateway to mainland China. For Canada, this role is vital. China has just become our second-most important export market after the United States, but we need to grow this trading relationship much further.

As a trading hub and as a top international financial centre, Hong Kong is also now increasingly serving as a springboard to a wider Asia.

This role as a platform for trade and investment works both ways. Canadian companies are leveraging Hong Kong’s unique qualities to successfully pursue opportunities in the region, and Hong Kong is also playing a key role in the flow of investment out of Asia into other global markets.

The Hong Kong-Canada business relationship will be strengthened further by the double taxation agreement signed during Prime Minister Harper’s visit in November 2012. This agreement will also further strengthen Hong Kong’s role as a platform for Canada’s trade and investment relationship with the rest of Asia.

Canada cherishes its relationship with Hong Kong and looks forward to further deepening our partnership going forward.

Thank you for this opportunity to speak to you today.