Canada making up for lost time with Asia ties

Mon Nov 21, 2011 2:28am EST
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By Ronald Popeski

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Canada is making up lost ground in its political and trade ties with Asia after emerging relatively healthily from the global economic downturn, the country's governor general said on Monday.

David Johnston, head of state when Britain's Queen Elizabeth is not in the country, said Canada's skill as a middle-sized diplomatic power would now boost its prominence in Asian forums after being criticized for lack of engagement, particularly by China.

"Yes, I would say that looking over quite a lengthy period of time, we would have been wiser to be more active in Asia," Johnston said in an interview during a visit to Singapore.

"That said, I think there is a pretty clear understanding in Canada today that China is rising, that Asia is rising very quickly...I think there have been over 30 ministerial visits in the past two or three years. And I think that is an indication of things to come."

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was chided in 2009 by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, who said he should have visited Beijing sooner than nearly four years into his term in office.

Johnston also visited Vietnam and Malaysia during an Asian tour that overlapped with a tour of the region by U.S. President Barack Obama. He said he hoped Canada would soon be able to take part in Asian forums like the East Asian summit attended by Obama last week on the Indonesian island of Bali.

And Johnston said Harper would have more freedom for maneuver with the parliamentary majority he secured in a May election after five years of minority government.

"If you look at our history, we have over time played above our weight. And I would expect especially with a majority government there will be a longer view with respect to those international involvements," he said.   Continued...