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ASEAN eyes Canada as anchor of peace in Indo-Pacific region

JAKARTA — Some southeast Asian leaders see Canada as an anchor for peace in the Indo-Pacific region, as they launch a new strategic partnership at a time when tensions continue to mount over territorial claims in the South China Sea.
From left to right, Philippine's President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., Singaporean Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, Thailand's Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Sarun Charoensuwan, Vietnam's Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Laos' Prime Minister Sonexay Siphandone, Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Manet, Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, and East Timor's Prime Minister Xanana Gusmaotake part in a family photo for the ASEAN - Canada Summit in Jakarta, Indonesia on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

JAKARTA — Some southeast Asian leaders see Canada as an anchor for peace in the Indo-Pacific region, as they launch a new strategic partnership at a time when tensions continue to mount over territorial claims in the South China Sea.

"As a strategic partner, I hope Canada can become an anchor for peace and stability in the region that respects international law, and that encourages co-operation that are more concrete and inclusive, in particular in the Indo-Pacific region," said Indonesian President Joko Widodo as he welcomed Canada into a new strategic partnership on Wednesday.

The partnership with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, known as ASEAN, is considered a symbolic gesture that reflects Canada's expanded presence in the Indo-Pacific region.

Trudeau, in a Wednesday speech to ASEAN leaders, said it shows the progress being made on a free-trade agreement between Canada and the 10-nation bloc.

"We share clear commitments to peace and stability, openness and transparency, to development and economic co-operation, and to an understanding that international rules are essential for growth," Trudeau said.

Trudeau met with leaders this week on the sidelines of the annual ASEAN summit.

China, Taiwan and some ASEAN member states — Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam — have for decades been locked in an increasingly tense territorial standoff in the South China Sea, where a bulk of global trade transits.

China has upset many countries in the Asia-Pacific region after it released a new official map that lays claim to most of the South China Sea, as well as to contested parts of India and Russia.

Most of the governments disputing China's claims in the South China Sea are ASEAN members. India, meanwhile, is hosting the G20 talks later this week, which Trudeau is set to attend.

Earlier in the day, Trudeau held private meetings on the sideline of the summit with leaders of Malaysia, Vietnam, Korea, Philippines and Australia.

Trudeau used his bilateral meeting with Philippine President Fernandez Marcos Jr. to extend an invitation for the leader to visit Canada next year.

The presidential communications office for Marcos Jr. says he will be in Canada to celebrate 75 years of diplomatic ties between the two countries.

Trudeau met with Marcos Jr. for about 30 minutes on Wednesday, where the two discussed their long-standing partnership and the large Filipino diaspora community in Canada.

During Trudeau's meeting with Prime Minister of Vietnam Pham Minh Chinh and Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, the leaders separately discussed their commitment to defending the rules-based international order and having a free and open Indo-Pacific region, said a read out from the prime minister's office.

Trudeau also expressed interest to ASEAN leaders that Canada would like to join the East Asia Summit and the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting Plus, which strengthens security and defence co-operation for peace, stability, and development.

A joint statement between Canada and the 10 southeast Asian countries on Wednesday lays out a commitment to tackle global food insecurity and nutritional needs together. It’s part of Canada's commitment to invest in the Indo-Pacific region on green infrastructure and supply chain resilience, especially around food supply.

Delivering a speech at the ASEAN-Indo-Pacific Forum, Trudeau said Canada is focused on investing in renewable energy, sustainable energy and water projects within the region.

Trudeau also pitched Canada as a reliable supplier of natural resources like fertilizer and critical minerals, saying Canada has the clean energy the world needs to help with their green energy transition.

The prime minister was well received at the summit, with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol calling Trudeau a close friend, and someone he always wants to run into.

Trudeau left for Singapore on Thursday, then heads to the G20 Summit in New Delhi later this week.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 6, 2023.

— With files from The Associated Press

Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press