Canada struggles to get noticed in Southeast Asia

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HarperCanada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who arrived for a three-day visit in Kuala Lumpur on October 4, seems to have picked the wrong timing to make his first visit to Malaysia, the Canadian Leader-Post wrote not without a reason.

Harper’s stop in Kuala Lumpur coincides with the three-day maiden visit to Malaysia of Chinese President Xi Jinping. Many of the capital’s streets are festooned with Chinese flags bidding welcome to Xi, his wife, Peng Liyuan, and the 100 officials who are to accompany the couple from Beijing.

Local newspapers have also been full of gushing reports about $100 billion of annual trade between the countries and a new trade and economic co-operation deal that is to be signed this weekend.

Not one Canadian flag has yet made an appearance in the streets of the capital, the paper noted. Nor has the foreign minister or the local media had anything to say yet about Harper’s impending arrival. Nor has there been any mention of the $2.9 billion in trade between Canada and Malaysia in 2012 – a figure that was badly skewed in Malaysia’s favour.

That Xi’s presence will greatly overshadow Harper’s before both leaders fly to the Asian Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in Bali on October 6 underscores the immense challenge Canada’s federal government faces getting Asia’s attention after a dramatic policy shift made trade with the region a top priority three years ago.

“For Malaysia and most of Southeast Asia, Canada is absent from our minds. It is not on our radar. The elephants in the room are China and the US. It is not intentional, but this is how it is,” Tang Siew Mun, director of Foreign Policy and Strategy at Malaysia’s Institute of Strategic and International Studies, was quoted as saying.

One of the problems that Canada, like some other western nations, has had, is that its crush on China, and to a lesser extent the other BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa), has meant that it has not seized the big trade opportunities that are also present in ASEAN.

It is not well-known in Canada that the Philippines has recently become Asia’s fastest-growing economy and Thailand has large agricultural potential. There are also opportunities for Canada to do business in areas such as aerospace in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore, as well as in agri-food and telecommunications across the region. That is in addition to Canada’s obvious strength as an exporter of machinery and expertise to Asia’s oil and gas industries.

“The situation Canada finds itself in is very unfortunate because Canadians are very different to deal with than Americans, and I mean that in a positive sense. Canadians are unassuming. They don’t push. They are never abrasive. All that works with Asians,” Tang said.

There is nothing Harper can do to compete with China’s Xi Jinping this weekend, “but in an ideal world, Canada should have a much larger presence here than it has,” Tang added.

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Reading Time: 2 minutes

Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who arrived for a three-day visit in Kuala Lumpur on October 4, seems to have picked the wrong timing to make his first visit to Malaysia, the Canadian Leader-Post wrote not without a reason.

Reading Time: 2 minutes

HarperCanada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who arrived for a three-day visit in Kuala Lumpur on October 4, seems to have picked the wrong timing to make his first visit to Malaysia, the Canadian Leader-Post wrote not without a reason.

Harper’s stop in Kuala Lumpur coincides with the three-day maiden visit to Malaysia of Chinese President Xi Jinping. Many of the capital’s streets are festooned with Chinese flags bidding welcome to Xi, his wife, Peng Liyuan, and the 100 officials who are to accompany the couple from Beijing.

Local newspapers have also been full of gushing reports about $100 billion of annual trade between the countries and a new trade and economic co-operation deal that is to be signed this weekend.

Not one Canadian flag has yet made an appearance in the streets of the capital, the paper noted. Nor has the foreign minister or the local media had anything to say yet about Harper’s impending arrival. Nor has there been any mention of the $2.9 billion in trade between Canada and Malaysia in 2012 – a figure that was badly skewed in Malaysia’s favour.

That Xi’s presence will greatly overshadow Harper’s before both leaders fly to the Asian Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in Bali on October 6 underscores the immense challenge Canada’s federal government faces getting Asia’s attention after a dramatic policy shift made trade with the region a top priority three years ago.

“For Malaysia and most of Southeast Asia, Canada is absent from our minds. It is not on our radar. The elephants in the room are China and the US. It is not intentional, but this is how it is,” Tang Siew Mun, director of Foreign Policy and Strategy at Malaysia’s Institute of Strategic and International Studies, was quoted as saying.

One of the problems that Canada, like some other western nations, has had, is that its crush on China, and to a lesser extent the other BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa), has meant that it has not seized the big trade opportunities that are also present in ASEAN.

It is not well-known in Canada that the Philippines has recently become Asia’s fastest-growing economy and Thailand has large agricultural potential. There are also opportunities for Canada to do business in areas such as aerospace in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore, as well as in agri-food and telecommunications across the region. That is in addition to Canada’s obvious strength as an exporter of machinery and expertise to Asia’s oil and gas industries.

“The situation Canada finds itself in is very unfortunate because Canadians are very different to deal with than Americans, and I mean that in a positive sense. Canadians are unassuming. They don’t push. They are never abrasive. All that works with Asians,” Tang said.

There is nothing Harper can do to compete with China’s Xi Jinping this weekend, “but in an ideal world, Canada should have a much larger presence here than it has,” Tang added.

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