25th Anniversary of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada

In the spring of 1985 the fledgling Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada moved into its first offices and opened its doors. It set out to try to carry out the sweeping mandate given to it by the Parliament of Canada the previous June. First among its aims, as set out in its ambitious founding Act, was “promoting mutual awareness and understanding of the cultures, histories, religions, philosophies, languages, life styles and aspirations in the Asia-Pacific region and Canada and their effects on each other’s societies.”

Twenty five years later we mark the quarter-century of life of the Foundation.  We have asked some of those who were involved in the establishment of the institution or have been involved in its evolution since, to contribute their thoughts on where the Foundation has come from and where it might go in the coming years as it seeks to achieve its mandate in a challenging, evolving environment in which Asia's role is very different from that in the world of 1985.

  John Bruk, Founding Chairman, 1984-1987

This year, the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada is celebrating its 25th anniversary.  I am honoured that, as Founding Chairman of the Foundation, to have been asked to offer my reflections at this important milestone.  

About 30 years ago, as Japan’s economic success was being duplicated by the Asian Tigers -- Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan -- a small group of Canadian academics, diplomats, businessmen and politicians recognized that the financial prowess of the region was not just a passing phenomenon.  They understood that the increasing importance of the region in world trade would have a marked and lasting impact on our lives.  At the same time, changes were taking place in China that presaged the end of its isolation and its eventual emergence as a major economic power.

With dramatically increasing exports and emigration from Asia, Canada faced the challenge of dealing with this new reality.  Somewhat belatedly we realized that we had to learn about and appreciate the strengths of diverse cultures of this large region, just as they had to learn about and appreciate the Canadian way.  To prepare Canadians to face this Asia-Pacific challenge and to participate in the region’s growth, the Foundation was created.

While we are doing reasonably well in meeting the Asia Pacific challenge, there are now new and more demanding challenges on the horizon, with their attendant risks and opportunities. It is urgent that we prepare ourselves to meet them.

The world today is a much different place than it was 30 years ago.  With the increasing economic might of China and India and the aspirations of the region’s Muslim countries, the importance of Asia has moved to the forefront of world affairs.  But other factors are also important.  We must anticipate the changes those new dynamics will bring about, and tap into these new opportunities in a way that it will benefit Canada.  Like the rest of the global community, we must also find ways to deal with the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the energy crisis, the changing climate and the plight of the poor -- additional global challenges that will affect us all.

We should take a good look at the Chinese example.  China has been very successful in developing its own free market model.  Deng Xiaoping called it “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” but it might be better described as “free market economy with Chinese characteristics.”  The Chinese, just like the Japanese and the other Asian Tigers before them, have learned from the West (they have sent thousands of young people to study there) and they have been very successful in adapting Western ways to their unique cultures without giving up their own value systems.  It is time for the rest of the world to take note of these successes.  Those in the West who fail to learn from these developments do so at their peril.

Our unique Canadian strengths give us many reasons for hope.  First, with a small population, Canadians have no alternative but to learn to deal with major powers, be they in Europe, the US or Asia.  This valuable experience, and the experience gained in responding to the Asia Pacific challenge, should help us deal with the new global challenges.

Canada’s diversity has challenged us to learn about and respect people from different cultural backgrounds so that we can all enjoy an inclusive, harmonious and prosperous society.  Our way of adapting to changing circumstances by accommodating diverse interests is surely the way of the future.

It is up to us -- government leaders, businessmen, academics and individual Canadians -- to support our institutions of learning, and organizations such as the Foundation, to help foster and marshal the energy and confidence of our young Canadians.  It is, after all, our youth who will make Canada live up to its full potential.  Our future is bright and Canada will shine, but only if we act boldly by being proactive rather than reactive to these new global challenges. 


 Senator Jack Austin

As Winston Churchill is quoted as saying, "the further you look back, the further you can see into the future."

Looking back, Canada had given little of its attention to Asia until some 50 years ago and many of those memories carried significant negatives. The loss of Canadian lives defending Hong Kong in 1941; more lives lost in the Korean war; the reaction of Canadians at the beginning of World War II to the presence of Japanese Canadians on the West Coast; older memories of the "head tax" against Chinese immigration; the " continuous journey" rules to bar Indian immigration. The backlash of fear about the "yellow peril" left a feeling of guilt about things Asian and the loss of Canadian servicemen and women a feeling of hostility. It was so much easier to focus on things American or European from whence many Canadians had originated.

But looking even further back we can see a China with an advanced civilization and the world's largest share of GDP; an India of great wealth and culture; and places such as Japan, Korea and the nations of Southeast Asia with strong societies. They were home to half of the world's population and carried on the bulk of world trade.

Until recent times most Canadians, if they thought of Asia at all, thought of the Pacific Ocean as an important boundary rather than as today as the key Gateway between emerging global economic leaders and new relationships and markets to be sought.

Fortunately there were a few Canadians who could look back and could also look forward to see that in spite of much adversity Asia would take a key role in the global system of the 21st century. Canadians were direct observers of the removal of European colonial dominance in China, India and Vietnam. Through our aid programs we assisted in developments in health, agriculture, science and technology, education and economic growth. We early saw the appetite of Asians for the same standard of living as those in the developed world.

As the years after World War II went by Asian nations began to be seen and to make an impact on the Canadian consumer. With the economic rise of Japan came investments in the natural resource sector and large purchases. Suddenly Japanese money was creating new mines, new forest exports, and with them new jobs and new communities. Who in Canada has not been affected by the import from Japan and South Korea of cars and trucks and now their assembly in Canadian factories? Who has not been the purchaser of electronic goods from Japan, South Korea, China or Taiwan?

Clearly Asia was impacting on the daily lives of Canadians but what did it mean? What did Asians think of Canada and how did we fit into their plans? How would their new economies, political systems and the movement of peoples from Asia into our universities, communities, societies and political institutions change our lives? Before these questions seemed relevant to most Canadians, a few with long exposure to Asia decided that these and many other questions needed to be addressed.

The legislation to create the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada was introduced into the House of Commons and Senate in 1984 and passed with the support of all political parties. Its creation was not partisan but an act of collective public policy. While introduced by the Trudeau government, its implementation was the work of the Mulroney government.

In the late 1970s a small team in the Department of Foreign Affairs in Ottawa, Asian specialists, looked at the sparse knowledge base in Canada on Asia; a handful in government, a tiny group of scholars scattered in four or five universities, a very few business leaders, and virtually no political leadership. But in that situation what there existed was pivotal. That team looked at the United States where the Asia Society, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the major universities were strongly focused on Asia and producing research materials from the perspectives of American interests. Asia was also important to Canada and we needed our own perspective and interests to be developed.

The focus of the Foreign Affairs team, a consultation process with business and the universities and finally the commitment of Prime Minister Trudeau overcame the indifference of the majority including his Cabinet. I was Senior Regional Minister for British Columbia and with my colleague Senator Ray Perrault pushed hard to establish the Foundation and its headquarters in Vancouver. Mr. Trudeau had traveled extensively in Asia before entering politics which led to his strong interest in Canada's recognition of China in October, 1970. He early saw that Asia would play a more significant role in global affairs and wanted Canada to be a friend to Asia's rise.

This is the Foundation's 25th anniversary year. It has made a positive impact on the awareness of and knowledge about Asia and its importance to Canada. Scholarship has been fostered, business interests have been assisted and relevant information transferred to the public. Government has benefited through the network of contacts which the Foundation has established throughout Asia. The Foundation has put Canada on the map with its counterparts in the United States, Europe and Asia. Its research and non-partisan policy advice are valuable and well received.

The original challenge still remains: to make Canadians aware of the role which Asian societies play in their lives and to develop ties of friendship between Canadians and Asians for their mutual benefit, whether through culture, learning, trade and investment, or through the enhancement of measures for peace and security. It's a big job for what remains in terms of its counterparts in other countries, a very small team.


 Pat Carney PC, former Minister of International Trade

The house in a Shanghai suburb where my brother, sister and I spent our early childhood years has belonged to the Shen family for nearly 70 years. Shen Zhen, a French language professor and importer bought the spacious house in the early 1940s after my family returned to Canada following the outbreak of war between Japan and China, and he raised his family in our former home.

Over the years, we have kept in touch. On our last visit his daughter, Shen Jiang Xie, and her husband, Cheng Yi Gang, welcomed us, as always, with warm smiles and cups of tea. Her sister Jeannie visited us in Vancouver and invited my twin brother and me to her son’s wedding in Los Angeles, where Peter from Hong Kong and Daniel from Shanghai joined us. We are “family,” sharing ties as so many Canadian and Chinese families do.

The founding Act of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada reflects this reality, stating that the Foundation’s purpose is to develop closer ties between the peoples and institutions of Canada and the Asia-Pacific region. Culture, histories, trade, development cooperation, scholarship—the Act cast a wide net.

The genesis of the Foundation was initiated by Prime Minister Joe Clark, who returned from the Tokyo Summit convinced that the Pacific Rim presented a vibrant future for Canada. He initiated a major conference, Pacifica, where the concept of a Foundation was advanced.

As one of the conference organizers, we thought that the subject would be of interest mainly to Western Canada. We did not anticipate the interest that we found existed in the rest of Canada, and which is reflected in the Foundation’s federal-provincial, public-private structure. Two “founding fathers” were mining executive John Burk and (then) Department of External Affairs official Tom Dilworth who developed the concept to the reality.

The Foundation was implemented by the Liberal administration and the Act was supported in Parliament by all political parties in 1984 and by all federal governments since then.

Over the years, Canada’s relationship with Pacific Rim countries has grown to where they are a primary source of trade and investment, immigration and cultural exchanges. The Foundation has added hugely to this relationship. May it continue to do so in the future.