Canada puts climate atop diplomatic concerns

Canada puts climate atop diplomatic concerns

Calvert: Polarisation a surprise
Calvert: Polarisation a surprise

A fresh and ambitious Justin Trudeau administration has mainstreamed the climate change agenda into its foreign policy engagement with Thailand, but comprehensive bilateral relations must await a return to democracy in Thailand, says Canada's ambassador to Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia.

"We are looking at transforming our policies based on scientific research, aiming to become a low-carbon economy by reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2030," said Philip Calvert.

The government's investment in research and development on clean energy technology helps the Canadian private sector play a leading role with development partners around the world, he added.

"We agree with the Thai government that clean energy is one of the areas we can work together in building utilities and developing the economy," he said.

Calvert: Polarisation a surprise

"With droughts and other natural disasters in the region, we also can work with the Philippines and discuss the matter with Cambodia and Laos too."

Thai-Canadian trade was worth almost US$3.9 billion last year, up nearly 15% from the previous year.

Canadian exports in 2014 were valued at US$862 million and consisted primarily of wood pulp, aircraft and space craft, fertilisers, and mechanical appliances, while imports of US$3.1 billion were mostly electrical machinery and equipment, machinery, prepared meat and fish, precious stones and metals, and rubber.

As of 2013, Canadian direct investment in Thailand, excluding that made through a third country, was worth US$186 million while Thai direct investment in Canada was valued at US$9 million.

There are about 8,000 Canadian residents in Thailand, including long-stay retirees, and over 220,000 Canadian tourists arrived in Thailand last year, a 9% increase over 2014.

There are about 8,500 Thais in Canada.

"I'd like Thai people to think of Canada as a positive place, a partner of choice, a country that is always willing to have friendly and frank discussions," said the ambassador who is spending his fourth, and perhaps last, year in Thailand.

We're committed to Thailand and Asean."

Unlike the United States, he said, Canada was more "like a mosaic than a melting pot. People come to Canada absorbing our core principles of rule of law, human rights and equality principles but they also bring their culture that should be preserved. Immigrants have enriched Canada," Mr Calvert said.

With a national health system in place for three decades, gun regulations and cheaper university tuition fees than in the US, the ambassador encouraged more Thais to study and do business in his country.

Yet he maintained a coherent stance with other western nations in arguing that "engagement with Thailand can return to full speed only once the country has a democratic government".

Where Canada differs from other embassies here is perhaps its quiet and subtle diplomacy of reaffirming democratic principles with the host.

"We want to see Thailand live up to its own international commitments -- observing the International Convention of Civil and Political Rights and Convention Against Torture, among others," he said.

He said he was impressed with Thailand's opportunities and people's friendliness.

"I'm aware of political challenges here," Mr Calvert said.

"I know about political polarisation, but I didn't expect or understand the intensity of the feeling on different sides of politics before I started in the post."

Prime Minister Trudeau, he said, has set an impressive precedent in pledging to receive 25,000 refugees from Syria by the end of next month.

The Syrian refugees will represent the largest number of immigrants since Canada took in Indochina refugees several decades ago, "but it's a show of responsibility of a wealthy nation in time of crisis", said the ambassador.

Currently, over 10,000 refugees from Syria have arrived in Canada, which normally receives 100,000 immigrants and asylum seekers each year.

"We're generous but we're not a sucker. Everyone has to go through an objective screening process to determine their status," said Mr Calvert.

He maintained Canada's unwavering reception of the refugees from Syria despite recent terror attacks elsewhere which are spurring Islamophobia.

"This is a separate issue. Canada also has vandalising and radicalised people but the leader and the people remain positive about welcoming the new immigrants," said Mr Calvert.

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