Biden’s pick for ambassador to Canada says U.S. waiting for Trudeau’s updated China policy
Cohen added that it’s key for the U.S. and Canada to improve their collaboration and coordination in taking on the “existential threat that is China.”
During the hearing, the former telecom executive and Democratic fundraiser also offered a glimpse at his thinking on a number of other key U.S.-Canada issues. They included Ottawa’s defense spending, bilateral coordination on international sanctions and damage to the relationship inflicted by the Trump administration.
State of play for the neighbors: Trudeau, who was reelected this week as prime minister, has faced renewed pressure in recent days as to whether Canada is on Biden’s radar when it comes to geopolitical matters like standing up to China.
For example, the prime minister was forced to explain at a campaign stop last week why Canada was not part of AUKUS, the new defense alliance comprising the U.S., the U.K. and Australia. The group is widely seen as an effort to counter Beijing.
Amid accusations Canada had been snubbed by allies, Trudeau said AUKUS is about nuclear submarines and that Ottawa, unlike Canberra, had no immediate plans to acquire them. He stressed that Canada remained a strong member of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance, which includes AUKUS partners as well as New Zealand.
Biden raised Canadian eyebrows Wednesday when, before a meeting with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, he said: “The United States has no closer or more reliable ally than Australia — our nations have been together for a long time.”
During Canada’s election campaign, Conservative leader Erin O’Toole presented a more-hawkish tone towards China. He pledged to seek Canada’s membership in AUKUS and another Indo-Pacific partnership — the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue.
Biden will convene the first meeting Friday of the “The Quad," which includes Australia, India, Japan and the U.S.
Canada’s updated China policy: Diplomatic relations between Ottawa and Beijing rapidly deteriorated in December 2018 following the arrest of senior Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. extradition warrant. In the days that followed, Chinese authorities arrested two Canadians — Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig — in what has been widely condemned by Western democracies as retaliation.
In October 2020, Canada marked the 50th anniversary of its diplomatic ties with China with a statement that committed to reevaluate the relationship.
“The use of coercive diplomacy causes Canada to re-examine its approach, with a focus on multilateral cooperation,” said then-Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne. “As we build a new framework for relations with China, Canada will work with partners to hold the Chinese government accountable to its international obligations.”
Canada’s updated China policy was expected by the end of 2020, but it has yet to be released.
Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau and Global Affairs Canada did not immediately respond Thursday to questions about the status of the new China framework.
Marta Morgan, Canada’s deputy minister of foreign affairs, told a parliamentary hearing in June that the country’s approach to China was “evolving to address the threats to our national security and our core democratic values.”
“We are continuing to challenge the actions of the Chinese government that are inimical to Canada’s interests and values," Morgan told the committee on Canada-China relations when asked about the status of the new framework. “We’re managing specific challenges such as the arbitrary detention of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig.”
During Wednesday’s hearing, Cohen told senators that Canada prefers to work with others on the global stage.
“Canada almost seems to prefer working in multilateral ways in its foreign affairs, which sometimes may make it appear that they are less outspoken than you might otherwise think,” Cohen said. “In the case of the two Michaels and arbitrary detention, they’ve been very outspoken and the United States has been very supportive.”
Here are five other highlights from the Cohen’s appearance:
‘Damage’ to the relationship: Committee member Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) asked Cohen how he intended to repair any damage done to the U.S.-Canada friendship while Donald Trump was in office.
“I agree with the premise of your question, quite strongly, and I think that it plays to one of my strengths over the course of my career,” Cohen replied. “I’m going to start with the simplest thing — I’m going to show up, I’m going to be there.”
He said he would establish a line of communication with the Canadian government, including with incoming cabinet ministers following Monday’s election.
“I’m also there to listen to Canadian concerns and to bring them back and make sure that I create a reality that the United States cares about Canada as a strong ally, cares about what they think and wants to be a true partner in trade and diplomacy, in defense, in energy and climate change,” he said.
Defense cash: Cohen also took a question from Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) on how he would advance shared security goals through NATO and NORAD.
The nominee said the countries have a long history of working together on defense arrangements — but then added: “There’s always room for improvement, let me put it that way.”
For instance, Cohen said Canada has yet to appropriate the funds necessary to pay for the all the improvements to NORAD that the two sides have agreed to conceptually.
“Although the percentage of the Canadian defense budget is creeping upwards, it is only at about 1.5 percent [of its gross domestic product],” he said before arguing the figure is projected to drop to as low as 1 percent over the next decade.
Reshoring supply chains: Cohen was asked how he would work to mitigate supply-chain disruptions caused by the pandemic and whether he saw any value in diverting them out of China and closer to U.S. soil.
He said he would encourage these types of discussions.
“Obviously, anytime we can divert supply chains to our hemisphere, as opposed to China, is an economic benefit to the hemisphere and to the United States,” he said. “To the extent that we can accomplish that, I think that is good policy for the United States and for Canada.”
Sanctions: Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) questioned Cohen on how important U.S.-Canada coordination of international sanctions would be if he were to get the ambassador’s post. Murphy noted how the countries recently worked together on sanctions in Belarus.
Cohen highlighted legislation allowing for the creation of a sanctions coordinator position in the U.S. State Department.
“It is my understanding that work is being done to identify a candidate to be nominated for that position,” he said. “That is an important tool to improve the coordination of sanctions, which will improve the effectiveness of sanctions, and will be another example of Canada and the United States being able to work together to advance our mutual goals.”
Biographical sketch: Cohen hosted a fundraiser for Biden on his first official day as a presidential candidate in April 2019 and was a campaign bundler for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. He’s also raised money for Pennsylvania Republicans.
Cohen was a senior executive at Comcast, a major American cable, internet and phone service provider headquartered in Philadelphia. He also served as Ed Rendell’s chief of staff when the Democrat served as the city’s mayor in the 1990s.
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), a Pennsylvania Republican, gave Cohen a glowing endorsement Wednesday before the committee.
He credited Cohen for playing a central role in pulling Philadelphia out of “really dire fiscal circumstances and placing it on a stable footing.” Toomey also said Cohen helped make Comcast a “powerhouse.”
“All the members of this committee understand full well how important Canada is as one of America’s allies and neighbors — we rely on Canada as a major trade energy and security partner,” he said. “President Biden made an outstanding choice in choosing David for this post. David Cohen’s very strong business background, his deep understanding of government at all levels, and his passion for service prepare him well for this role.”
Indian Americans protest outside White House over Modi’s visit
Protesters call on the Biden administration to hold Indian leader accountable over rights violations and religious freedom.
Washington, DC – Dozens of Indian Americans have gathered at Lafayette Square, the park in front of the White House, to protest against the visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the United States.
Chanting slogans and holding placards that read “Save India from fascism”, the protesters on Thursday castigated Modi over human rights violations, persecution of Muslims and other minorities, new farm laws, and the crackdown in Indian-administered Kashmir.
Since his election as India’s prime minister in 2014, Modi has been accused of presiding over an unprecedented religious polarisation in his country, with several laws discriminating against minority groups, mainly its 200 million Muslims.
A protester outside White House holding poster showing a person being beaten during last year’s anti-Muslim riots in New Delhi [Raqib Hameed Naik/Al Jazeera]
Modi is currently in the US to attend the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad Summit, with President Joe Biden, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. The four-nation Quad alliance aims to check China’s growing military and economic power globally.
Modi will also address the ongoing United Nations General Assembly in New York on Saturday.
Later on Friday, Biden will host his first bilateral meeting with Modi after winning the presidential election. The two leaders are expected to discuss a range of topics, including the coronavirus pandemic, climate change, to maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific region.
“Bilateral discussion between the US and India will help reinforce and give momentum to the Quad discussion because many of the topics are very much interrelated,” a senior Biden administration official told reporters earlier this week.
Before the scheduled Biden-Modi meeting, the protesters outside the White House called on the US president to keep to his campaign promise of making human rights a central feature of the American foreign policy.
Last year, during the presidential election campaign, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris strongly condemned New Delhi’s crackdown in Indian-administered Kashmir, the implementation of a controversial citizens list in Assam state, and the passage of an “anti-Muslim” citizenship law that triggered nationwide protests and deadly riots in the capital.
Dozens of Muslim activists and students were thrown into jail for protesting against the 2019 citizenship law that the United Nations called “fundamentally discriminatory” as it blocks naturalisation for Muslims.
Activists wear Hitler-Modi masks in front of the White House where Biden will hold bilateral meeting with Modi later on Friday [Raqib Hameed Naik/Al Jazeera]
Al Jazeera reached out to White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki’s office to confirm if human rights and religious freedom were on the agenda during the Biden-Modi meeting, but a spokesperson declined to comment.
Victor Begg, a 74-year-old community leader and activist, said he travelled all the way from Florida state to register his protest against Biden’s meeting with the Hindu nationalist leader.
“What Modi represents is totally against American values. By allowing him into the United States and hosting him in the White House compromises our democracy as well,” Begg told Al Jazeera.
The activists raised the recent surge in the attacks and killings of religious minorities, especially Muslims and Christians, by the members of Hindu right-wing groups in various parts of India.
“Right now, we are witnessing a slow genocide of minorities. The lives of India’s 200 million Muslims are at stake, and the Biden administration can no longer afford to stay silent. This meeting is the right time to send a stern message to India,” Syed Ali, the president of an advocacy group, the Indian American Muslim Council, told Al Jazeera.
Ali also expressed “extreme displeasure” over a meeting between a senior US diplomat and Mohan Bhagwat, the chief of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteers Organisation or the RSS), the far-right ideological mentor of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
On September 8, Atul Keshap, the US acting ambassador to India, visited Bhagwat in New Delhi. “Good discussion with Shri Mohan Bhagwat about how India’s tradition of diversity, democracy, inclusion and pluralism can ensure the vitality and strength of a truly great nation,” Keshap tweeted.
Good discussion with @RSSorg Shri Mohan Bhagwat about how India’s tradition of diversity, democracy, inclusivity, and pluralism can ensure the vitality and strength of a truly great nation. pic.twitter.com/FB5gizzFuI — U.S. Ambassador to India (@USAmbIndia) September 8, 2021
When contacted by Al Jazeera, the US Department of State declined to give details of the “private diplomatic conversations” between Keshap and Bhagwat.
“US officials meet a wide range of political, business, religious, and civil society leaders in India and across the world. We cannot comment on the details of private diplomatic conversations,” Nicole Thompson, the Department of State’s press officer, said in an emailed response to Al Jazeera.
Farhana Kara Motala, an activist with Justice For All, a Chicago-based advocacy group, raised serious concerns over “the ongoing state repression” in Indian-administered Kashmir and urged the Biden administration to stand up for the rights of the Kashmiris.
“US can’t stay as a mute spectator as India continues to violate all the rights of Kashmiris,” Motala told Al Jazeera.
The Himalayan region of Kashmir is claimed by India and Pakistan, which rule over parts of it. Indian-administered Kashmir is the country’s only Muslim-majority region, where an armed rebellion started in the 1990s to either merge with Pakistan or create an independent country.
Shortly after Modi was re-elected in 2019, his government scrapped the disputed region’s special status guaranteed by the constitution and turned it into a federal territory.
The move was followed by an unprecedented crackdown by India’s forces, which saw hundreds of politicians, activists, separatists and youths thrown in jails and a months-long security lockdown and communications blackout in the region.
Indian-American activists address protesters in front of the White House [Raqib Hameed Naik/Al Jazeera]
As former chief minister of India’s Gujarat state, Modi was banned from travelling to the US for a decade after more than 1,000 people, most of them Muslims, were killed in 2002 in what critics describe as a pogrom.
Al Jazeera reached out to four BJP spokespersons and the Indian embassy in Washington, DC, but they declined to comment or did not respond to questions on Thursday’s protest.
Arjun Sethi, a community activist and adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University, said India under Modi’s rule has become the world’s largest authoritative government, suppressing any dissent and criticism of its policies.
Sethi spoke about cases of police brutality meted out to India’s farmers, who have been protesting for nearly 10 months on the highways leading to New Delhi, seeking repeal of three new “anti-farmer” agricultural laws passed by the Modi government in September last year.
“They (farmers) organised peacefully to fight for their rights and food security in India, and in return, they were met with suppression and violence,” Sethi told Al Jazeera.
“We are here because we stand for the rights of minorities, Dalits, women, farmers, human rights defenders, and journalists in India.”
Dalits, who fall at the bottom of India’s complex caste hierarchy, have faced persecution and marginalisation at the hands of “upper-caste” Hindus for centuries.
Linda Cheriyan, 25, an activist with Black Lives Matter of Greater New York who participated in Thursday’s protest, said it is high time that Biden delivers on his campaign promises of promoting democracy and human rights globally, especially in India.
“Fascist regimes can’t be America’s strategic partners,” Cheriyan told Al Jazeera.
Big Questions for the Quad
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Here’s what’s on tap for the day: The White House gears up for the Quad summit , the Biden administration’s revolving door begins whirling, and the State Department looks to beef up its China staff .
Welcome to Foreign Policy ’s SitRep! It’s raining here in Washington, so we’ve been cozying up to pumpkin spice lattes and dreaming of Oktoberfest.
Welcome to Foreign Policy’s SitRep! It’s raining here in Washington, so we’ve been cozying up to pumpkin spice lattes and dreaming of Oktoberfest.
Here’s what’s on tap for the day: The White House gears up for the Quad summit, the Biden administration’s revolving door begins whirling, and the State Department looks to beef up its China staff.
If you would like to receive Situation Report in your inbox every Thursday, please sign up here.
The Gang’s All Here
For the first time, the leaders of the four members of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (known as the Quad) are set to converge on the White House on Friday. But the fledgling grouping of the United States, India, Japan, and Australia, which first set its sights on tackling a raging pandemic earlier this year, is now going to have to deal with a growing Chinese military footprint in the region. And this visit could be key for nudging India onto a more aggressive footing.
What’s on tap? Publicly, the Biden administration insists that the meeting isn’t about the elephant in the room: China. U.S. President Joe Biden, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga (in what is likely his last visit to the White House as prime minister) will officially be focused on fighting COVID-19, addressing climate change, partnering on cybersecurity and emerging technologies, and promoting freedom of movement in the Pacific and Indian oceans.
But China has continued to toughen its military posture in the region since the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. In particular, the Taiwan problem is becoming more urgent: China flew more than a dozen fighter jets and two bombers into the island’s air defense zone earlier Thursday.
Is this a military thing now? Even after tangling with Chinese troops in a deadly clash on the border last year, India has still been reluctantly tiptoeing toward a more forward military stance in the region. The White House is coming into this summit with some diplomatic wind in its sails after inking a deal with the United Kingdom and Australia to provide Canberra with nuclear-powered submarines over the next 18 months.
India and Japan won’t be involved in the so-called AUKUS partnership, according to the U.S. administration, but look for the Biden team to begin trying to inch India closer to wider military cooperation with Japan and Australia. The Biden administration is also working on an Indo-Pacific strategy, according to one source with knowledge of the situation, which could be rolled out in the coming weeks and may offer some clues.
Quad-plus? France is still angry about being left in the dark on the AUKUS submarine deal (the French had a multibillion-dollar contract to provide the Australians with diesel-electric submarines), and Biden has already teased that there may be a larger role for France in the region to ease the heartburn.
The French ambassador has returned to Washington after briefly being recalled, but in a readout of Biden’s call with French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday, the U.S. president reaffirmed “the strategic importance of French and European engagement in the Indo-Pacific region.” Look for the Quad leaders to try to find ways to get European Union and NATO countries—which have already been conducting freedom of navigation operations in the region—more involved in Asia.
Let’s Get Personnel
UNGApalooza. Robbie and our teammate Colum Lynch have some personnel scoops from the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York this week. (Catch up on their pop-up newsletter about the massive diplomatic gathering here.) U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres is set to lose his point man on Afghanistan, the French diplomat Jean Arnault, according to a source familiar with his plans.
But Guterres is getting two new top hires in Turtle Bay. Noeleen Heyzer, a Singaporean former U.N. official and social scientist, is a top contender to be the U.N.’s next envoy to Myanmar, a move that could strengthen the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ influence in a possible settlement. Staffan de Mistura also appears to be inching his way toward a role as U.N. envoy for Western Sahara, after a turn as U.N. envoy to Syria from 2014 to 2018.
Protest vote. The State Department’s special envoy for Haiti, Daniel Foote, resigned on Wednesday in protest of the Biden administration’s decision to deport thousands of Haitian refugees, a move the career foreign service officer said he fears “will fuel further desperation and crime.”
In a strongly worded resignation letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Foote said the Biden administration’s approach to Haiti remains “deeply flawed” and said his policy recommendations had been “ignored and dismissed, when not edited to project a narrative different from my own.” Foote had been on the job just two months.
Penta-comers. Biden tapped three new nominees for top Pentagon roles this week. Carrie Ricci is the administration’s nominee to serve as the Army’s top civilian lawyer; longtime House Armed Services aide Douglas Bush is being elevated to assistant secretary of the army for acquisition, logistics, and technology (he’s currently serving in the role in an acting capacity); and Ashish Vazirani is the choice to be the Pentagon’s No. 2 official for personnel and readiness.
Penta-goers. The Biden administration has asked the Pentagon’s top nuclear policy official Leonor Tomero to resign in an effort to reorganize the agency’s policy shop and prioritize space, Politico first reported. Tomero, who only served eight months on the job, had previously gotten into hot water over an interview with the Asahi Shimbun where she said the United States would reexamine the costs of upgrading nuclear weaponry. (The Pentagon insisted she had been misquoted.)
Ambassador class. Biden is picking Erik Ramanathan to be U.S. ambassador to Sweden, Michael Adler as the top American diplomat in Belgium, and Calvin Smyre as ambassador to the Dominican Republic. The American Foreign Service Association reports that just two of Biden’s 61 picks to be U.S. ambassadors have been confirmed by the Senate since January.
On the Button
What should be at the top of your radar, if it isn’t already.
China House. The State Department is dramatically expanding the number of officers assigned to monitor what Beijing is doing around the world, as we scooped this week. State is adding dozens of new officers in embassies abroad and at its main headquarters in Washington to keep an eye on Beijing’s political and diplomatic maneuverings, the latest organizational shuffle reflecting broader U.S.-China competition worldwide.
One former senior career diplomat, Susan Thornton, is against the move, however, saying it could hype and conflate threats from China and worsen already tense relations between Washington and Beijing.
Dire straits. Afghan refugees staying at U.S. military installations are facing food shortages, harassment, and a lack of proper heating as winter approaches. At Fort McCoy, a U.S. Army base in Wisconsin, women staying at the base told the Wisconsin State Journal that they have little to wear and eat, and have faced trouble from former U.S.-trained members of the Afghan National Army who have harassed women and skipped cafeteria lines.
“There are many people who don’t have anything to wear, anything to eat,” one Afghan woman said. Two refugees at Fort McCoy are also facing charges of sex crimes, one against a minor.
Havana frights. After an aide to CIA Director Bill Burns reported symptoms consistent with the mysterious health issue known as Havana syndrome, the State Department is searching for a new top czar on the issue. That incident and the instances of the syndrome among U.S. diplomats in Hanoi just before Vice President Kamala Harris visited last month have led the CIA to start a hunt for those responsible, with the effort described as similar to the spy agency’s chase for Osama bin Laden.
McClatchy reports that Blinken is expected to name a replacement for Pamela Spratlen—who previously oversaw the Havana syndrome response and is now retiring—in the coming days.
Workplace hostility. The Army’s top public affairs officer has been suspended from her job until further notice as the military service investigates charges of a hostile workplace.
Brig. Gen. Amy Johnston has been removed from her post in the wake of a workplace survey in which a staggering 97 percent of civilians and soldiers in the Office of the Chief of Public Affairs for the Army reported “workplace hostility,” while two-thirds of employees said they were dealing with low morale. The survey also revealed possible incidents of racial and sexual harassment, Army Times reported on Wednesday night.
We asked you, our readers, to help rename the shoddily named AUKUS alliance last week, and you answered.
Here’s our top pick: Reader David Silverman proposes adding Brazil to make it a Brazil-Australia-United Kingdom-United States lineup. “BAUKUS, with Brazil, and highlighted by a wine-soaked rich-man’s Carnival!” he writes. Sounds fun, count us in.
Put On Your Radar
Tuesday, Sept. 28: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, and U.S. Central Command chief Kenneth McKenzie testify in the Senate about the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. They will reprise that testimony the following day in the House.
Quote of the Week
“The two leaders have decided to open a process of in-depth consultations, aimed at creating the conditions for ensuring confidence and proposing concrete measures toward common objectives.” —Readout of Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron’s phone call
Wondering what that word salad of a sentence actually means? So are we.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
“Mad Dog” justice. Former Defense Secretary James Mattis was back in the news on Wednesday when he testified in a San Jose, California, court in the case of former Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes. Mattis, who was an investor in the blood-testing startup and eventually joined the board, said he and others were shocked to learn that Theranos had not been conducting tests with its own proprietary technology.