Canada's Defence Relations in the Asia Pacific Region

May 2015

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

Multilateral Defence Relations

Contemporary defence and security challenges in the Asia Pacific region, both traditional and non-traditional, extend 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. The cornerstone of Canada’s regional multilateral relations is Canada’s engagement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as a Dialogue Partner, which dates back to 1977. Through engagement with ASEAN, Canada is able to participate in 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 expressed its interest in  joiningthe ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus and the East Asia Summit.

In addition to our engagement with ASEAN, Canada participates in other regional, multilateral defence fora, most notably:

  • The International Institute for Strategic Studies’ Asia Security Summit, commonly known as the Shangri-La Dialogue, which is held annually 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. The Dialogue provides an opportunity to discuss regional security issues, exchange best practices and discuss opportunities for increasing collaboration in areas such as peacekeeping, civil-military relations, maritime security, humanitarian assistance, and disaster relief.

  • The United States Pacific Command Chiefs of Defence Conference, which is a meeting that provides chiefs of defence as well as other senior military leaders in the Asia Pacific region a venue to discuss mutual security challenges and encourage security cooperation.

  • The Jakarta International Defence Dialogue, held annually by Indonesia, which brings together senior civilian and military defence leaders to discuss regional and global security challenges.

  • The Seoul Defence Dialogue, which brings together senior defence officials at the Deputy Minister/Vice Minister level.

  • The Tokyo Defence Forum, which contributes to confidence-building among participating nations through informal discussions and information exchange at the Director General level from countries with an interest in the Asia Pacific region and who possess knowledge and experience in a wide range of security issues including international/defence policy, overseas operations, humanitarian assistance/disaster relief, and maritime security.

  • Multinational Planning and Augmentation Team Program, which is a cooperative multinational military program to increase the initial response time to a crisis by multinational forces in the Asia Pacific region. It was established by the Commander of U.S. Pacific Command and the Chiefs of Defense of various nations in the Asia Pacific region in November 2000, following observations from the peace operations in Timor Leste.

Regional Military Exercises

The CAF participate in regional military exercises to strengthen its defence relationships with key regional partners and to develop interoperability with other countries in areas such as maritime operations, humanitarian assistance and disaster response.  

Regional exercises in which Canada participates include:

  • Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC), which is the world’s largest international maritime military exercise. Held biennially in the Hawaiian and Southern California area, Canada has participated in every iteration since RIMPAC’s inception in 1971. RIMPAC enables the CAF to develop skills and procedures designed to foster operability, readiness, and communications with partners and crisis response capabilities. In 2014, Canada deployed more than 1,000 CAF personnel, including a Company Group from 3 PPCLI, three ships (HMCS Calgary, HMCS Nanaimo and HMCS Whitehorse), one submarine (HMCS Victoria) and several aircraft (six CF-188 Hornets, one CC-130 Hercules, one CC-150 Polaris and three CP-140 Auroras). The next RIMPAC will be held in 2016, during which Canada is expected to take a command role.

  • COBRA GOLD, which is one of the largest exercises in the region next to RIMPAC. It is held by Thailand with U.S. support and centres on operations and staff work within a multinational coalition environment within a peace enforcement scenario. CAF participation in this exercise is limited to one CAF observer due to the recent military coup in Thailand.

  • ASEAN Regional Forum’s disaster relief exercise (DiREx), which is a training opportunity through which ASEAN countries can exercise coordination of civil-military international assistance to strengthen cooperation in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. Canada has attended this exercise with representation from the CAF and the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD).

  • ULCHI FREEDOM GUARDIAN Exercise, which tests the operational control of the combined forces in defence of the Korean peninsula. Canada’s participation has consisted of personnel from 1st Canadian Division acting as a Division Headquarters under the 1st U.S. Corps. For the past three years, Canada has been invited to and has contributed to this exercise, making the largest contribution of any participant other than the U.S. and the Republic of Korea. In 2014, Canada contributed 95 personnel from the 1st Canadian Division to participate in the tactical level portion of the exercise.

  • KEY RESOLVE/FOAL EAGLE exercise series in the Republic of Korea, which are a command post and a field training exercise respectively. The exercises are designed to improve the combined and joint operational posture of South Korean and U.S. military forces. The field exercise, Foal Eagle, is purely defensive and tests the capability of South Korea to defend itself, assisted by the U.S. Armed Forces. In 2014, Canada contribution to these exercises were six staff officers and one observer respectively.

  • The KHAAN QUEST exercise series, which is a peacekeeping operations focused, combined training event between U.S. Army Pacific and Marine Corps Forces Pacific, hosted annually by the Mongolian Armed Forces. The exercises are designed to enhance individual and professional readiness and tactical interoperability in the delivery of humanitarian assistance between regional partners. Canada’s planned CAF contribution for 2015 consists of eight medical personnel, six engineers and two Joint Counter Explosive Threat Task Force personnel.

  • Operation RENDER SAFE, which is a multinational, Australian Defence Force (ADF) lead Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) clearance operation. Held bi-annually, this operation aims to reduce the explosive hazard to the local population, mitigate the potential recovery of ERW by criminal or terrorist organizations and to assist with capacity building of local police/defence forces. Canada has participated in this operation with a team of 10 personnel.

  • Operation DRIFTNET, which is Canada’s participation in multinational efforts to control drift netting and other forms of illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing in the North Pacific Ocean. It is a recurring CAF operation in support of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO); DFO Fishery Officers conduct surveillance patrols over the high-threat zone in the international waters of the North Pacific Ocean aboard Royal Canadian Air Force CP-140 Aurora maritime patrol aircraft.

Bilateral Defence Relations

Bilateral defence relations between Canada and individual Asia Pacific states are another important component of DND/CAF’s engagement in the region. In addition to bilateral defence relations with partners in the Asia Pacific region, 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 recurring and mutually reinforcing defence-related engagement activities with our Asian partners. 

Bilateral Defence Relations: North East Asia

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

Canada recognizes that China is an important economic and military power. To complement Canada’s broader bilateral relationship, DND/CAF has been enhancing its engagement with the Ministry of National Defence of the People’s Republic of China and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. Since 2012, Canada has been advancing this emerging bilateral defence relationship through several high-level meetings, which culminated in Canada’s and China’s defence ministers signing the non-binding Cooperation Plan Initiative between the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and Canada’s Defence Team in August 2013. The Cooperation Plan Initiative is designed to guide the further development of bilateral defence relations, and encompasses defence-related activities that demonstrate reciprocal value, are modest in nature and are enduring in the long-term. DND/CAF’s engagement activities with the PLA currently include strategic military-military talks, reciprocal visits by government and military officials, academic exchanges and promoting links between the various components of the military.

Canada is committed to increasing defence cooperation and engagement with Japan, a valued regional security partner. Currently, Canada 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. Japan was also added as an implementation partner of Canada’s Military Training and Cooperation Program in 2012. Japan has since contributed to the program by providing instructors and lecturers on two MTCP Civil Military Cooperation (CIMIC) tactical courses conducted in Tanzania (2012) and Senegal (2013), and on a UN Military Observer Course conducted in Indonesia (2014). Bilateral agreements help deepen the defence relationship, including most notably the 2010 Canada-Japan Joint Declaration on Political, Peace and Security Cooperation. The Joint Declaration established a framework for regular bilateral interactions between Canada’s deputy ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defence, and their Japanese counterparts, known as the “2+2” Dialogue, which provides strategic guidance to the areas of defence and security cooperation. Another notable treaty is the Canada-Japan Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA), which was agreed to in principle by Canada’s and Japan’s Prime Ministers in September 2013 and is pending approval by both countries’ parliamentary processes. Once approved, the Treaty will be a milestone in the bilateral defence relationship as it will enable the CAF 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, particularly humanitarian assistance missions.

Canada has long enjoyed positive bilateral defence relations with the Republic of Korea (ROK). 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, which continues to advance. In 2011, Canada committed to fill five positions at the unified command structure for the multinational military forces supporting the ROK during and after the Korean War, the United Nations Command (UNC) in Seoul. This demonstrates Canada’s commitment to the security of the peninsula and increasing cooperation in the region, and provides a vital foundation for the broad Canada-ROK bilateral defence relationship. Canada also fosters bilateral defence relations with the ROK through bilateral defence agreements, such as the Mutual Logistics Support Memorandum of Understanding, which enables improved logistical exchange and increased interoperability between Canada and ROK military forces. Canada and the ROK 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 primarily engages its South East Asian partners multilaterally through ASEAN, the DND/CAF are also expanding defence relations and initiatives in the region on a bilateral basis. These defence relations reflect the priority the DND/CAF place on mutual security and cooperative interests. Bilateral relations are being cultivated through a number of activities, including: high-level meetings undertaken by officials such as the Minister of National Defence and the Chief of the Defence Staff; ship visits, such as the February 2014 visit of HMCS Regina to Singapore and the 2013 visit of HMCS Regina to Port Klang, Malaysia, and Manila, Philippines; and defence education cooperation.

Defence education cooperation, through the Military Training and Cooperation Program (MTCP), represents one of the most significant areas of bilateral relations with South East Asian states, particularly in Indonesia and Malaysia.

  • Indonesia was named 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. Since 2012, the Directorate of Military Training and Cooperation (DMTC) sponsored several courses and workshops on peace support operations and public affairs in Indonesia.

  • Malaysia has been identified as an MTCP country of focus. Malaysian military personnel receive English-language training, staff training and peacekeeping operations training in Canada. In August 2014, a CAF logistics officer began an initial two-year posting to the Malaysian Peace Support Training Centre in Port Dickson, which will help expand the Centre’s training capacity on UN mission logistics. Additionally, Canadian Special Operations Forces and their Malaysian counterparts have recently entered into a three-year training exchange partnership.

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 intelligence 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. Canada and Australia share a common outlook on international security issues as well as a like-minded approach to operations. Bilateral relations are fostered by commitments to hold regular ministerial and chief of defence meetings and policy talks. Canada and Australia have a solid foundation of defence cooperation including exercises, training, academic exchanges and high-level visits. The CAF participated in Operation RENDER SAFE 2014, Australia’s Explosive Ordinance Disposal support to the nations of the South West Pacific region. Canada plans to continue participating in this exercise on a biennial basis.

Canada and New Zealand are also like-minded defence partners and 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. 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 on a range of issues from training to operations to human resources policies. This program has led to further training opportunities, such as CAF participation in Exercise SOUTHERN KATIPO, which is a multi-nation, tri-service exercise hosted by New Zealand 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; a significant number of Canadian families trace their roots back to South West Asia, which includes several members of the Commonwealth.

Canada has an important and expanding relationship with India. Canada and India share common values, including a commitment to democracy and pluralism. In April 2015, the Prime Ministers of Canada and India agreed to explore potential areas of defence cooperation, including cold climate warfare, peacekeeping, participation in respective Defence Staff College training and examining opportunities to enhance naval linkages and staff exchanges. Defence technology is another area of defence cooperation between Canada and India; Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC) and its Indian counterpart, the Defence Research and Development Organisation of India, signed a Statement of Intent in January 2015, aiming to explore cooperation in defence and security science and technology.

Pakistan remains an important partner for Canada in the global fight against terrorism, and Canada and Pakistan continue to work together to enhance defence and security in the region. Canada and Pakistan’s bilateral defence relationship is supported by high level visits and defence education cooperation. Canada and Pakistan maintain an active staff college exchange, with Pakistan sending officers to the Canadian Forces College and Canada regularly sending an officer at the major rank level to the Army Staff College in Quetta. Through the Military Training and Cooperation Program (MTCP), officers from the Pakistan military have participated in Canada’s senior-level National Security Programme.

Canada’s enduring relationship with Afghanistan continues after our military training mission ended in March 2014. Canadians will not forget the sacrifices of the 158 CAF members and 1 diplomat 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

The Military Training and Cooperation Program (MTCP) is an important instrument of defence diplomacy and contributes to Canada’s ongoing efforts to build enduring partnerships with regional partners. In line with the Government of Canada’s strategic priorities, MTCP activities in the Asia Pacific region are aimed at:

  • Enhancing peace support operations’ capacity and interoperability among Canada’s partners;

  • Expanding and reinforcing Canadian bilateral defence relations; and,

  • Promoting Canadian democratic principles, the rule of law and the protection of human rights in the international arena.

The MTCP operates a number of training programs throughout the Asia Pacific region, including in 10 active member countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Republic of Korea, and Singapore. Thailand has been suspended as an MTCP member country as part of the Government of Canada’s response to the 2014 military coup in Thailand.

MTCP uses a ‘train-the-trainer’ approach, and focuses primarily on peace support operations, military staff courses, and professional development activities such as second language courses, which are held both in Canada and various locations around the world.