Media Releases

National effort needed to build Canada’s ‘Asia competence,’ says APF Canada, Munk School Task Force Report

November 5, 2013

Vancouver, B.C. – A task force report released today by the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada (APF Canada) and the Munk School of Global Affairs calls for Canada to take a whole-of-country approach to ensuring that more Canadians gain exposure to, experience in and expertise on Asia. “We are very encouraged by the recommendations coming out of this task force,” said Janice Stein, Director of the Munk School. Yuen Pau Woo, President and CEO of APF Canada, added, “Canadian ambitions for deeper and stronger economic ties across the Pacific will not be realized unless there is an investment in Asia skills across the country.”

The report, Canada’s Asia Challenge: Creating Competence for the Next Generation of Canadians, looks at what Canada is doing, where it is falling short and how it can draw lessons from other countries’ experiences. It makes specific recommendations on strengthening these three pillars of ‘Asia competence,’ and stresses the urgency of governments, private sector leaders and educators to do more to prepare young Canadians for an increasingly Asia-centred world.

“While we identified some significant ‘islands of progress’ within Canada, we found that these efforts are too small-scale and ad hoc to have the kind of transformative effect that Canada needs,” said David Mulroney, Distinguished Fellow with the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada and Senior Distinguished Fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs.

The report also found that Canada is lagging behind other countries in promoting Asia competence.  For example, only 3% of Canadian university students participate in study abroad programs. In Australia, the participation rate is twice as high, and in Germany it reaches 30%.

Both the United States and Australia have launched high-level initiatives to help their citizens gain experience in Asia: in 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama announced support for the 100,000 Strong Initiative to rapidly increase the number of American students studying in China; and in 2012, the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper prioritized building that country’s “Asia capabilities.”

In contrast, a recent APF Canada poll showed that 60% of Canada’s Asia practitioners have difficulties finding Canadians with sufficient knowledge about that region.

The report’s key recommendations include:

  • Establishing an annual national conference to serve as a mechanism for sharing best practices. Alberta, as a province that has demonstrated an impressive commitment to Asian language training and internships in Asia, would be an ideal host of the first conference in 2014.
  • Ensuring that Canada’s international education strategy is a two-way effort. In recent years, both the federal and provincial governments have focused heavily on attracting students to Canada, with little high-level leadership and endorsement to encourage more Canadians to get experience overseas.
  • Encouraging governments, as well as the private sector in key economic sectors, to strengthen their Asian know-how by involving Asia-experienced Canadians in strategic advisory boards, industry associations and corporate boards.
  • Examining ways to support and replicate successful community-led initiatives.

“Now is the time to build a nationwide strategy to help Canadians gain the skills and knowledge that they will need to be competitive in the Asia century,” said Janet De Silva, Dean of Ivey Asia and co-chair of the task force, “Canada is well-positioned in terms of its economy and business relations to see more success in Asia,” she added, “but to realize this success we have an urgent need to develop our human capital and Asia know-how.”

The Task Force on Asia Competence was created as part of APF Canada’s National Conversation on Asia (NCA). The report was developed through high-level consultations with different sets of stakeholders in the public, private and education sectors in Coquitlam (BC), Edmonton, Halifax, Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver. The NCA is an initiative aimed at getting Canadians thinking and talking about what Asia means to Canada.


About the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada

The Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada is an independent resource for Canadians on contemporary Asia and Canada-Asia relations. As a national not-for-profit organization established by an Act of the Federal Parliament in 1984, the Foundation brings together people and knowledge to provide the most current and comprehensive research, analysis and information on Asia and on Canada’s transpacific relations. Visit APF Canada at

About the Munk School of Global Affairs

The Munk School of Global Affairs speaks to the diverse set of complex ideas and challenges shaping the global system. The newly strong powers in Asia, a global platform of innovation, global capital markets, the challenges of security in cyberspace, the security of the Arctic, and new concepts of global justice are all engaged by outstanding faculty and researchers drawn from across the University of Toronto, Canada’s premier research university. With exceptional degree programs and innovative research labs, the School attracts thought-leaders and students from around the world who are deeply engaged in global affairs. It is home to the flagship Master of Global Affairs and over forty research institutes and programs.

About the National Conversation on Asia

The National Conversation on Asia is a Canada-wide initiative to get Canadians thinking and talking about what Asia means to Canada. It includes a public education and policy development focus. This initiative is generously supported in part by our Founding Partners: Teck, Shell Canada, Manulife Financial and BMO Financial Group; Founding Sponsors: HSBC Bank Canada and Port Metro Vancouver; and Founding Supporters: Port of Halifax, Fiera Capital, Deloitte, Vancouver Airport Authority, Husky Energy, Canadian Pacific, TELUS, Blakes, Cameco and SNC-Lavalin. For more information about the National Conversation on Asia, visit

To arrange interviews or for more information, please contact:

Jillian Oliver
Communications Officer
Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada
Office: 604-630-1536

Sean Willett
Chief of Communications
Munk School of Global Affairs,
Office: 416-946-8904
Mobile: 778-989-6471