MANILA, Philippines — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivered an impassioned pitch to core members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Tuesday to open the door to Canada joining its exclusive and influential circle.
In a speech to the ASEAN-Canada summit before the almost two dozen leaders of the alliance, Trudeau said Canada looks forward to becoming a member of the East Asia Summit and the ASEAN defence ministers panel.
"Canada is not only willing, but ready to be a key partner for the next 50 years," he said.
"We are ready to contribute to ASEAN’s success in an increasingly globalized world by joining the East Asia Summit and the ASEAN defence ministers meeting-plus at the earliest opportunity. This would allow Canada to become a full and dynamic partner of ASEAN."
Trudeau, who spoke ahead of the larger summit involving leaders from 18 countries, including China, Russia and the United States, to discuss security issues, said Canada's earnest defence of free trade puts it in a unique position to help the association foster growth in southeast Asia.
He argued that trade deals create jobs and new and lucrative markets for business.
"Done right, we believe that trade deals can create good, well-paying jobs for the middle class and those working hard to join it. Ultimately, Canada believes that the benefits of growth must be felt by everyone — not just our wealthiest citizens."
Trudeau also highlighted Canada's efforts to help the Rohingya Muslims, including the decision to appoint former MP Bob Rae as a special envoy to the region.
"I have asked him to engage in diplomatic efforts, and identify ways in which Canada can support the response to the situation and the plight of the Rohingya minority," Trudeau said.
"Canada will continue to support ASEAN’s humanitarian and political efforts to find a sustainable and just solution to the ongoing crisis. Canada will also continue to work with the governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh to allow for the safe return of displaced peoples."
Trudeau also said Canada stands alongside Asia in demanding that North Korea abandon its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.
"North Korea must immediately cease all activities that go against its international obligations and United Nations Security Council resolutions," he said.
Trudeau is attending the ASEAN summit thanks to an invitation from Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, who sat beside the Canadian leader during his remarks.
Government officials say Dutarte went "out on a limb" to secure the invitation but one senior insider insists the Philippine president's helpful gesture won't have any impact on whether Trudeau confronts him about human-rights violations in the southeast Asian country that have shocked people around the world.
Trudeau has hinted he might bring up the issue of human rights with Duterte, if he gets the chance.
It also remains to be seen if Trudeau will challenge Duterte face to face over his violent drug war. Duterte's bloody crackdown has included extrajudicial killings by his government that have left thousands dead.
The leaders do not have any one-on-one meetings scheduled during Trudeau's time in the Philippines.
Francisco Fernandez of the Philippines embassy in Ottawa says Canada sought the invitation and Manila didn't hesitate to grant it, partly because of trade and investment ties and partly due to the 837,000 people of Filipino descent who live in Canada.
Trudeau will be the first Canadian leader to participate in a one-hour exchange at the ASEAN summit, during which members will ask him questions and debate the depth of Canada's co-operation in the region.
The opportunity arrives at a time when Trudeau is making efforts to raise Canada's international profile and demonstrate it can wrestle with complicated challenges, at home and abroad.
"As a Pacific nation, Canada has long understood the importance of a close relationship with Southeast Asia," said Trudeau.
"Partners in prosperity and in peace, Canada has sought to deepen and strengthen the ties that unite us in recent years for the benefit of all our citizens. We took an important step in that direction when we established a diplomatic presence in all 10 member states and appointed a permanent ambassador to ASEAN."
The Canadian Press