On March 21st, 2022, a distinguished panel of experts of Japanese, European, and North American politics and foreign relations participated in an event to discuss Indo-Pacific strategies and how varying regional policy approaches should be best understood. This event was graciously co-sponsored by the Consulate General of Japan in Toronto and the ​​Centre for Japanese Research at the University of British Columbia.

Deanna Horton, a Senior Fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy at University of Toronto, moderated the event. Horton started by outlining the geopolitical importance of the Indo-Pacific in both the economic and security domains, noting that the area alone accounts for nearly two-thirds of the world’s GDP. She followed by introducing the panelists, who provided their insights about the Indo-Pacific strategies of several key players.

The first panelist was Dr. Akiko Fukushima, a Senior Fellow at the Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research who has served on several Japanese government committees including the Advisory Council on National Security and Defense Capabilities to the Prime Minister. She started by outlining the Japanese vision for a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific.” Fukushima explained the inherent value of the rule of law in Japan’s understanding of geopolitics, with a strong emphasis placed on maritime stability and security, especially in the context of China’s rising power. Fukushima also discussed the need for quality infrastructure investments between nations in order to stimulate stronger economic relationships and trade. She concluded by observing that it will be important for Western countries to “join in facing the watershed present in international politics.”

The second panelist was Dr. Kristi Govella, a Senior Fellow and Deputy Director of the Asia Program at The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF). Govella started by characterizing the American perspective toward the region and shifting policy goals from the Trump administration to the Biden administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy, which was released in February of 2022. Govella stated that audience members “will likely hear a lot of similar components” during the event in approaches toward the Indo-Pacific due to inherent economic-security linkages, particularly between the United States and Japan. She continued her analysis by describing ideal governance of the global commons from an American lens, and emphasized how democratic institutions and strong, converging coalitions will allow for greater collaboration of supply chain security and move to encourage fiscal transparency and long-term bonds in the Indo-Pacific political landscape.

The third panelist was Nicolas Véron, co-founder of Brussels-based think tank Brugel and a Senior Fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. Véron provided the audience with a European perspective on the geopolitical utility of the Indo-Pacific region with a strong focus on economic relationships and benefits of increased trade. Describing Europe as an “inward looking continent,” Véron further described how several member states of the European Union (EU) are “uncomfortable” with taking on global leadership roles and prefer to conduct Indo-Pacific diplomacy to take advantage of specific goals, such as economic opportunities. Describing the EU as a secondary player, Véron highlighted specific relationships, such as China and its “16+1” strategy to increase business relationships between the power and the bloc, as the main source of European involvement in the region.

The fourth panelist was Johnathan Fried, a former public servant who previously served as Canada’s ambassador to the World Trade Organization, ambassador to Japan, and chief counsel for NAFTA among other high-level roles. Fried is also a Distinguished Fellow of the Asia-Pacific Foundation and the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. He outlined a Canadian policy perspective towards the Indo-Pacific region. Starting by detailing Canada’s early contact with the region through missionaries, Fried went on to describe how engagement has shifted to one that prioritizes development assistance and the opening of both trade routes and economic opportunities. From bilateral trade agreements with South Korea to supporting the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Canada has found itself as a “strong supporter of a peaceful and fruitful Indo-Pacific.” Fried suggested, however, that Canada should refresh this longstanding engagement in the context of new security challenges and the growing economic importance of the region. Fried also noted that Canada must emphasize climate change and consider how environmental degradation and mass migration may impact business in the region. He observed that the “next 5-10 years will be crucial in determining Canada’s role as a sustained, engaged player in the Indo-Pacific.”

Commentary was provided by Dr. Yves Tiberghien, the Director for the Center for Japanese Research at the University of British Columbia and Distinguished Fellow at the Asia-Pacific Foundation of Canada. Tiberghien began by describing the Indo-Pacific region as one of “great current activity” and how we are at a “historical juncture in which we may see the end of the post-Cold War world start to emerge.” He continued by outlining how several strategies being actively pursued by states revolve around the reality of the growing industrialization and globalization of countries in key strategic locations, particularly in South Asia. Tiberghien also highlighted policy areas that he predicts will be crucial in determining the future of multilateral governance regimes, especially around topics such as cyber-security, climate change, and public health planning. He concluded by noting that a “sustained lack of progress in global governance regimes” creates both new challenges and opportunities for countries like Canada to become more deeply involved as a global leader in the increasingly important region.

Following the panel discussion, there was a lively question and answer period moderated by Deanna Horton with audience members from around the globe. Questions covered issues such as how nuclear proliferation concerns influence Indo-Pacific strategies, the impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and how Canadian foreign policy may work in concert with American foreign policy in order to sustain common geopolitical goals.

Concluding remarks were provided by Sasayama Takuya, the Consul-General of Japan in Toronto. Consul General Sasayama discussed the current geopolitical situation in Ukraine, relating it to security challenges in the Indo-Pacific. He also reinforced the need for free and democratic institutions in the region and for countries like Japan to maintain their leadership role in promoting the rule of law and respect for human rights.

We would like to thank the panel for their thoughtful analysis as well as the virtual audience that was in attendance for an engaged Q&A session.