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21 November 2019, Gateway House

India-Canada: different geopolitics, common interests

Canada, a middle power, and India, an aspiring middle power, have much to offer each other. The India-Canada Track 1.5 Dialogue, the second edition of which will be held on November 22 in Mumbai, is designed to advance the relationship. Manjeet Kripalani, Executive Director, Gateway House, in conversation with Cleo Paskal, Associate Fellow, Chatham House, who is in the city for the Dialogue and to lead a second initiative, called the Indo-Pacific Engagement

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Manjeet Kripalani (MK): Welcome to the Gateway House podcast. This is Manjeet Kripalani, Executive Director of Gateway House. I would like to welcome Cleo Paskal, who is an Associate Fellow with Chatham House and an expert on the Indo-Pacific. She is also Canadian and is here for two major initiatives by Gateway House. One is the India-Canada Track 1.5 Dialogue, which is in its second edition, and the second is an initiative by Chatham House, led by Cleo, called the Indo-Pacific Engagement, which we will be hosting next week.

So Cleo, let’s talk India-Canada first. We began this initiative because we felt that India should engage with the other big North American power called Canada, which has never really leveraged its own strengths and we thought this was a good time to look at Canada, to create an engagement with it, because Canada has many things that India wants – technology, energy – and it is a very welcoming place for our diaspora. So do you see the relationship advancing faster, now that Canada seems to be finding a new place for itself in the world?

Cleo Paskal (CP): Well, I hope so. I mean it’s about time. I think that Canada, due to its geographic isolation, has been very lucky in being insulated from some of the major cuts and thrusts of geopolitics and is starting to realise how the world is changing very fast and how it does have some of these advantages that it could be leveraging much better. Ideally, that would dovetail with some of its values and identify countries like India that are not only good strategically and economically, but are just a good fit, a country-to-country fit, and we can see that by how well the Indian diaspora does in Canada. Indians become excellent Canadians – like in politics, business, whatever. They are part of the fabric of  Canadian society now in such an easy way that it is clearly a natural fit. So I hope that is being acknowledged all through the government levels. The business sectors certainly already know – and things will start to happen to make that coming together a lot more easy.

MK: So in our India-Canada Track 1.5, the topic we have chosen is ‘Innovation, Growth and Prosperity’, and we are looking at a futuristic agenda. Among the issues we discuss are: climate change; technology; the dark web particularly; digital Canada; digital India; trade in services, which comprises not just financial services, but IT services, which is critical for both India and Canada; energy; and the G20. Canada can certainly help us in the G20. What else do you see are opportunities for India and Canada to collaborate on?

CP: Canada and India have very different geopolitical profiles. Canada is very much a part of the West, very much the U.S.’ kind of little brother in many ways, perceived at least internationally, but it does have its own offerings. India has much more embedded and in- depth knowledge of what is going on in the rest of the world, in Africa, Asia, in the South Pacific, in areas that are becoming much more important strategically, geopolitically, geoeconomically. Canada has a lot to learn from Indian colleagues on what is going on in those countries, and more importantly, how we can all work together. There are certain things that Canada can’t deliver in a place. Part of the Indo-Pacific that I know, more than the rest, is, for example, the South Pacific. The compatibilities between India and the South Pacific countries are very strong in terms of village-based economics, the need for e-education and healthcare and low-cost effective pharmaceuticals. Canada cannot deliver that, but if it partners with India for those sorts of projects, both sides can benefit and the third party country can create the sort of internal stability and security that has a global strategic benefit.

MK: Well, that certainly feeds right into our view of what India and Canada can do together, and I think that as middle powers, India is an aspiring middle power, Canada is a middle power.

CP: I would push back on this a little bit. I think that India actually has a lot more influence globally than maybe it even realises, and although I am a Canadian, I think sometimes we over-estimate what we have to offer and a little bit of humility could go a long way internationally. But India, particularly, I think, has an enormous weight in a lot of areas that are not traditionally quantified, in terms of all sorts of soft power issues, but also just in terms of things like low-cost pharmaceuticals, or being a knowledge centre. Those have been going on for hundreds of years, if not longer. So I think that the paradigms with which we quantify powers should be redefined if we are going to accurately understand how we can work together in an effective way. I think India is the bigger brother in some of these relationships without even maybe realising it.

MK: Thank you Cleo. We welcome you once again to Mumbai and to the India-Canada Track 1.5 and to the forthcoming discussion on India and Canada in the Indo-Pacific.

CP: Really looking forward to it. Thank you again.

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