Canada’s Defence Relations in the Asia-Pacific Region

Backgrounder / November 4, 2013 / Project number: BG - 13.056

As a Pacific country, Canada considers its relations with its Asia-Pacific neighbours a priority. Canadian security and prosperity are linked to the vitality of Asia’s economy and the stability of the region. In support of this agenda, the Department of National Defence (DND) and Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) are committed to strengthening peace and security in the region and enhancing their engagement in Asia-Pacific.

From our commitment of resources towards humanitarian and relief efforts following Typhoon Haiyan, to our participation in regional military exercises and high-level defence fora, we are proud of the steps that we have taken in recent years to bolster defence relations and increase cooperation with Canada’s partners in the Asia-Pacific region.

Multilateral Defence Relations and Regional Military Exercises

Multilateral Defence Relations

Contemporary defence and security challenges in the Asia-Pacific region, such as criminal networks, territorial disputes, natural disasters, terrorism, as well as concerns about the freedom of movement at sea can reach beyond the borders of a single state and affect the security and defence of the entire region. Responding to these challenges and mitigating their effects demands multilateral, regional responses: concerted, cooperative efforts that involve many countries pooling their resources, coordinating their efforts, and increasing interoperability between armed forces.

Multilateral defence relations are an important component of Canada’s overall engagement in the Asia-Pacific region. From a defence perspective, DND/CAF supports Canada’s diplomatic relationships in part by participating in a number of high-level multilateral defence meetings and conferences. An important example is the annual International Institute for Strategic Studies’ Shangri La Dialogue in Singapore. This premier, inter-governmental event is a crucial venue for dialogue on the security and defence of the region, and is attended by ministers and chiefs of defence from Asia-Pacific and beyond. This year, General Tom Lawson, chief of the Defence Staff of the Canadian Armed Forces and Richard Fadden, Deputy Minister of National Defence, attended the Dialogue, which was an opportunity to exchange best practices and discuss opportunities for increasing collaboration with Asian partners and other traditional partners and allies in areas such as peacekeeping, civil-military relations, maritime security, humanitarian assistance, and disaster relief.

Another important example of high-level defence conferences that support Canada’s defence relations is the United States Pacific Command Chiefs of Defence Conference. This important meeting is attended by chiefs of defence including General Lawson, as well as other senior military leaders in the Asia-Pacific region. At the Chiefs of Defence Conference, these senior military leaders discuss mutual security challenges and encourage security cooperation.

Perhaps the most important example of Canada’s multilateral relations in the Asia-Pacific region is Canada’s engagement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN as well as its member states (Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam) which dates back to 1977. As the cornerstone of Canada’s multilateral relations in the Asia-Pacific region, ASEAN provides a forum for Canada to take part in an important dialogue on regional defence and security issues.

Under the ASEAN organizational umbrella, Canada also participates in the ASEAN Regional Forum, which is designed to strengthen cooperation amongst member states to foster peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region. Canada is committed to contributing further to the Asia-Pacific security architecture and has announced its interest in participating in the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus and the East Asia Summit. The CAF have also taken part in other regional exercises such as the ASEAN Regional Forum’s disaster relief exercise (DiREx).

Regional Military Exercises

The CAF is involved in a number of regional exercises that support multilateral defence relations. For example, More than 1,000 Canadian sailors, soldiers, airmen and airwomen participated in Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC), the world’s premier combined and joint maritime exercise, from June 27 to August 1, 2014, in the vicinity of the Hawaiian Islands and Southern California. RIMPAC is the world’s largest international maritime military exercise, involving forces from Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Colombia, France, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, People’s Republic of China, Peru, the Republic of Korea, the Republic of the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Tonga, the United Kingdom and the United States. Canada has participated in every iteration since RIMPAC’s inception in 1971.

Canada is also a major participant in the Ulchi Freedom Guardian Exercise, which tests the operational control of the combined forces on the Korean peninsula. For the last 3 years, the CAF contingent has been the largest amongst the Sending States (excluding the US).  Canada also participated in the Key Resolve/Foal Eagle exercise series in South Korea for the past 2 years, which is a field training exercise designed to improve the combined and joint operational posture of South Korean and U.S. military forces.  

Canada also participates in the KHAAN QUEST series of exercises, hosted by the Mongolian Armed Forces and co-sponsored by the Mongolian Armed Forces, U.S.Army Pacific and the Alaskan Air National Guard, under the U.S. Department of Defense Humanitarian and Civic Assistance program. The exercises are designed to enhance individual and professional readiness and tactical interoperability in the delivery of humanitarian assistance between regional partners. This year the exercise will take place from 18 June to 2 July.  For the last two years, CAF personnel participated to Operation RENDER SAFE, an Australia-led Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) operation aiming to support South Pacific nations.

Bilateral Defence Relations

Bilateral, country-to-country defence relations between Canada and individual Asia-Pacific states are another important component of Canada’s defence relations in the region. In addition to bilateral defence relations with partners in the Asia-Pacific region as described below, Canada signed a Canada-U.S. Asia-Pacific Defense Policy Cooperation Framework with the U.S. in November 2013. This Framework provides the foundation for Canada and the U.S. to coordinate the conduct of recurring and mutually reinforcing defence-related engagement activities with our Asian partners. 

Bilateral Defence Relations: North East Asia

In support of a whole-of-government approach that seeks to enhance Canada’s bilateral relationships with North East Asian countries, the DND and CAF are engaged in initiatives in China, Japan, and South Korea.

Canada recognizes that China is an important economic and military power. The DND and CAF have growing relations with the Ministry of National Defence of the People’s Republic of China and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), and will continue to engage in dialogue about  issues of regional and international security. Canada has been advancing this emerging bilateral defence relationship through multi-level engagements.  In 2013, during a senior official’s meeting between the CAF and the PLA Canada and China agreed to establish a Defence Coordination Dialogue to discuss defence issues of mutual concern.  Each nationaffirmed their intent to establish a Cooperation Plan Initiative, which would guide defence-related activities. Building on these exchanges, the Honourable Rob Nicholson, Minister of National Defence, P.C., Q.C., M.P. for Niagara Falls, and the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Tom Lawson, met with General Chang Wanquan for a bilateral exchange in Ottawa in August 2013.  At the meeting, Minister Nicholson and General Chang signed the Cooperation Plan Initiative.

Japan is a valued regional and global security partner. We share a common set of values and interests, including promoting and upholding democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, access to open markets, arms control, and disarmament. These values  have created steady defence relations between Canada and Japan on a number of regional and global issues. Bilateral agreements, such as the 2010 Canada-Japan Joint Declaration on Political, Peace and Security Cooperation greatly contribute to deepening this defence relationship. Canada also cooperates with Japan on issues such as defence policy, interoperability and cross-services, nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, disaster prevention and emergency response and peacekeeping. During a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on September 23, 2013, Prime Minister Harper announced agreement in principle on a Treaty. Known as the Canada-Japan Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA), the Treaty, once approved by both countries’ parliamentary processes, will be a milestone for the bilateral defence relationship.  The ACSA will enable Canadian Armed Forces and Japan’s Self-Defense Force units to exchange basic goods and services wherever both forces are cooperating, such as during training, exercises, and a limited range of operations, notably humanitarian assistance missions.

Canada has long enjoyed positive bilateral defence relations with the Republic of Korea. These defence relations have a foundation in the Canadian contribution to the Korean War and have evolved into a rich history of strong political and economic partnerships and cooperation. This relationship continues to advance.  Contributing to this relationship are a number of high-level visits, Prime Minister Harper’s March 2014 visit to Seoul and President Park’s September visit to Ottawa, where the two leaders agreed their relationship was an important ‘Strategic Partnership’. Canada also fosters bilateral relations with South Korea through bilateral defence agreements, such as the Mutual Logistics Support Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which enables improved logistical exchange and increased interoperability between Canada and South Korea’s military forces.

Canada and South Korea continue to explore new areas and avenues of cooperation, including through enhanced collaboration during key regional forums, and, specifically by continued CAF participation in exercises on the Korean Peninsula, such as Ulchi Freedom Guardian, Key Resolve and Foal Eagle.

Bilateral Defence Relations: South East Asia

While Canada engages its South East Asian partners multilaterally through ASEAN, the DND/CAF are also growing defence relations and initiatives with our South East Asian partners on a bilateral basis. These defence relations reflect the priority the DND/CAF place on mutual security and cooperative interests. Some examples of bilateral defence cooperation across the region include:

  • High-level meetings, such as General Lawson’s visit to the Philippines following his attendance at the Shangri-La Dialogue in June 2012  The visit provided the opportunity to discuss increased Canadian bilateral defence cooperation and continued Canadian involvement in the region. General Lawson’s visit is the latest in a number of high level visits that included former Minister of Defence Peter MacKay’s visits to Singapore and Thailand in 2012 .; attendance by MGen Foster, Deputy Commander RCAF, at the Singapore Air Show in February 2014 and participation by LGen Thibault. Vice Chief of the Defence Staff in the Jakarta International Defence Dialogue in Jakarta, Indonesia in March 2014 continue to demonstrate Canadian commitment and interest in the region.
  • Ship visits, such as the March 2014 visit of HMCS Regina to Singapore; and, 
  • Military capacity building in counter-terrorism: Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM) is conducting military to military capacity building in counter-terrorism with Malaysia.  Initially the capacity building is being carried out under the umbrella of the Directorate of Military Training and Cooperation (DMTC) but it is expected to grow into a proposal under DFATD's Counter-Terrorism Capability Building Program (CTCBP).  The initial three-year engagement, which began in spring 2014, will help strengthen national capabilities.  Canadian and Malaysian Special Forces units have been paired; the intention is for up to four training events per year; as well as some national exchanges for military courses.  It is hoped that these activities will provide the foundation for a longer-term program of cooperation with Malaysia to address mutual security objectives.

Bilateral Defence Relations: Oceania

Located in the Central and South Pacific Ocean, Canada has long enjoyed positive bilateral defence relations in Oceania, particularly with Australia and New Zealand, which are both members of the Five Eyes community.

Defence relations between Canada and Australia are deep and enduring, with Australia being one of Canada’s closest partners in the Asia-Pacific region and globally. We share a common outlook on international security issues as well as a like-minded approach to operations.  We have a solid foundation of defence cooperation including exercises, training, academic exchanges, high-level visits and operations. 

Recent high-level visits that support and foster defence relations with Australia have included DM Fadden visit to Australia in September 2014 and. Both the Deputy-Minister and Chief of the Defence Staff General Lawson met with their Australian counterpart at the Shangri-La Dialogue in the spring of 2014. Canada also has a Canadian defence attaché posted to Australia that is cross-accredited to New Zealand.

Canada and New Zealand also enjoy a robust history of defence cooperation. Historically, the CAF and the New Zealand Defence Forces (NZDF) have worked together in a number of international security operations, such as Afghanistan, Bosnia, and East Timor. A number of high-level visits have also taken place recently between Canada and New Zealand, such as the DM visit to New Zealand in September 2014.  Both the Deputy-Minister and Chief of the Defence Staff General Lawson met with their New Zealand counterpart at the Shangri La Dialogue in the spring of 2014.

Since 2005, the CAF and the NZDF have participated in CANZEX (Canada New Zealand Exchange), a program that includes joint training and enhances cooperation and interoperability between our militaries. The CAF also participates in programs such as REGULUS, a Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) training program.  The CAF also participated in Operation RENDER SAFE 2014, Australia’s Explosive Ordinance Disposal support to the nations of the South West Pacific region.  In the case of New Zealand, the CAF participated in the 2013 edition of Exercise SOUTHERN KATIPO, which is a multi-nation, tri-service exercise to practice operational planning, execution and command and control of a deployed Combined Joint Task Force during an amphibious operation.

Bilateral Defence Relations: South West Asia

South West Asia covers the area from Afghanistan in the west to India in the east, and extends north as far as the former Soviet republics and south into the Indian Ocean. Canada has deep links to this region, which includes several members of the Commonwealth. A significant number of Canadian families trace their roots to South West Asia, and Canada has made a major effort to promote security in the region, most significantly through our mission in Afghanistan.

Canada has an important and expanding relationship with India based on shared values, including a commitment to democracy and pluralism. High-level visits, such as Prime Minister Harper’s visit in 2012 and Governor General David Johnston’s visit of 2014, have underscored the importance of this relationship and helped build momentum. Canada and India are exploring areas for future defence cooperation with a view to strengthening the defence and security relationship, promoting greater cooperation, and enhancing international peace and security.

Pakistan also remains an important partner for Canada in the global fight against terrorism, and Canada and Pakistan continue to work together to enhance security in the region. High-level visits supporting this relationship have included the May 2012 visit by Pakistan’s Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, General Khalid Shaheem Wynne, and the visit of Chief of Defence Staff General Lawson to Islamabad in March 2014.

Canada’s enduring relationship with Afghanistan is grounded in the military mission that ended in March 2014.  Canadians will not forget the sacrifices of the 158 CAF members who died working on behalf of Canada to help bring security to the Afghan people.  To ensure the future stability of a secure and democratic Afghanistan, Canada continues to provide financial support to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Canada’s ultimate goal remains to sustain the gains that have been made since the fall of the Taliban regime and help Afghans rebuild Afghanistan into a viable country that is better governed, more stable and secure, and never again a safe haven for terrorists.

The Military Training and Cooperation Program

An important instrument of defence diplomacy and part of the whole-of-government approach stated in the Canada First Defence Strategy, the Military Training and Cooperation Program (MTCP) involves:

  • Enhancing peace support operations’ interoperability among Canada’s partners;
  • Expanding and reinforcing Canadian bilateral defence relations;
  • Promoting Canadian democratic principles, the rule of law and the protection of human rights in the international arena; and,
  • Achieving influence in areas of strategic interest to Canada. 

The MTCP operates a number of training programs throughout the Asia-Pacific region, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Singapore, and Thailand (suspended since June 2014). Since the inception of the MTCP in 1965, over 2,000 military students from the region have been trained under its auspices. Other regional MTCP activities have included:

  • Adding Japan as an implementing partner of the MTCP. As an implementing partner, Japan contributed to the program by providing instructors/lecturers on the MTCP Civil Military Cooperation (CIMIC) tactical courses conducted in Tanzania (2012) and Senegal (2013), as well as on a UN Military Observer Course conducted in Indonesia (March 2014).
  • Naming Indonesia as an MTCP “Centre of Excellence”, with CAF and Indonesian forces partnering to provide training in Indonesia to military personnel from Asia-Pacific MTCP member states. Indonesia is both a priority member state of the MTCP and one of its top recipients (both in terms of budget and positions on courses). The MTCP provided training to 229 personnel, including 53 positions in 2013-14 in courses on topics such as English language, peacekeeping, and public affairs, in addition to staff training such as National Security Studies and Canadian Security Studies. A successful Peace Support Seminar was conducted at the Indonesian Peace and Security Centre in July 2012 in partnership with the Indonesian National Armed Forces, which was followed by a Public Affairs Workshop in the fall. In 2013-2014, DND sponsored another Peace Support Workshop, a Civil Military Relations Workshop, and a UN Military Observer Course in Indonesia. In 2014-2015, the Directorate of Military and Training Cooperation (DMTC) will sponsor two Public Affairs workshops as well as a Strategic Peace Support Operations Course in Indonesia.
  • Offering 26 vacancies to Malaysia (up from 10 positions in 2012/2013) for courses in 2014-2015 for English and French language training, staff training, public affairs and peacekeeping operations. DMTC also sponsors a training exchange between CANSOFCOM and its Malaysian counterpart. InAugust 2014, DMTC posted a logistics officer to support the Malaysian Peacekeeping Centre.
  • Granting 23 placements to Mongolian Armed Forces personnel in 2014-2015 for courses on English and French languages, peace support operations, public affairs and junior officer-staff training.
  • Providing training 159 military members from the Philippines since 1998. Members of the armed forces of the Philippines have participated in a variety of courses through the MTCP, as well as staff officer development training and peace support operations training.


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