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November 20-22, 2020
Informal Sessions via Zoom Off the record
France, Freedom, Faith
From Moscow to Minsk: Putin’s Poison
Himalayan Heat: Sino-Indian Friction
Israel’s New Friends
HFX2020 kicked off in a world that has been fundamentally changed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of gathering in-person in Halifax, this year HFX participants gathered virtually around the world to participate in the first major international security conference to meet since a divisive US election.
Facing existential threats posed by climate change, rising power struggles and a global pandemic, the cooperation fostered by HFX has never been more important. HFX President Peter Van Praagh started the conversation by reaffirming the commitment that HFX makes to the strengthening of democratic institutions with the unveiling of a handbook on how to deal with an increasingly aggressive China. It is designed for democracies, but its recommendations are accessible for citizens, HFX2020 participants and decision-makers alike. The main message of the handbook? When democratic countries come together, the world is a safer place.
Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan paid special tribute to Canadian armed forces who rose to the challenges of COVID-19 and provided tremendous logistical support to help Canadians return home from abroad. They also pitched in with critical support to hospitals in the spring. At the same time, COVID-19 doesn’t make our other national security obligations go away. Ultimately, the pandemic has reminded us of the importance of multilateral relationships around the world. Even with the challenges of 2020, vaccines present a light at the end of the tunnel and forums like HFX provide a mandate to strengthen our democratic institutions.
“The Halifax International Security Forum, like the US itself, is both an ideal and an entity.”
“We know that the best way forward is for countries who share the same values is to work together, fostering dialogue and cooperation.”
“Canada’s position as a stable middle power means we can do more to safeguard and reinforce our partnerships that have defined global cooperation for 70 years.”
Plenary 1: Democracy vs. Ourselves: Divided We Fall On the record
Vice President, Halifax International Security Forum
Nobel Peace Laureate
Former President, Croatia
Co-Founder and President, Rainey Center and Director, National Security Outreach, Human Rights First
The United States or Divided States of America? Although the COVID-19 pandemic has brought the world together in many ways, it often seems as if we have never been so divided. Whether it’s the erosion of trans-Atlantic partnerships, distrustful bi-partisan governing or tense dinner tables around the country, it can be difficult to build bridges over our differences, and that has consequences. Senator Tim Kaine believes that the American people have been let down by their government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bishop Garrison spoke from a United States still reeling from the results of a bitterly fought election. He did, however, see reason for hope that the incoming Biden administration will help heal the divides in America – whether they are racial, economic or political. As Mark Hetfield points out, the United States is a very divided nation, and one of the issues that divides the country is the fear of immigration, and its incumbent on all of us to demonstrate that there is no reason to fear refugees.
Michael Abramowitz believes that people around the world look to the United States for leadership, but right now we are in a phase where the United States is a “tarnished tribune”. It’s a tough road ahead, but the US is hardly the first country to deal with a divided people. Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic once thought that the people of her home in Croatia would never be able to coexist after a bitter war and collapse of the Soviet Union. Today, she said that thankfully she was wrong. And there are lessons to be learned from the Middle East as well – a region not often known for the resolution of deep conflict. Tawakkol Karman felt optimistic about the ability of the US to rebuild diplomatic relations around the world. She believes that if the American people can protect their democracy at home, it will provide an inspiring example for those abroad.
Whether it’s Croatia, Iran or the United States, the message was clear: the most important thing we can do to bridge our divisions is to listen to one another. Fostering democracy is the key to building a more unified world, where authoritarian leaders seek to exploit and divide it. Our panelists today proved that the United States is not alone in trying to heal a divided society. The US has long provided an example to the rest of the world. Today, they have allies who are willing to return the favour and lend a hand.
“Trust is the basis of any human relationship and trust is the basis of democracy.”
“The refusal of the President to accept the results of the election is really crucial to democracy, a peaceful transition of power. I guarantee that authoritarians here are watching to see how we have handled the election.”
“Refugees and immigrants are one of the key factors that have made this country strong.”
“I think the mismanagement of the pandemic played a key role for independent and Republican-leaning voters who looked at the US response and felt, I know we can do better.”
“America has never dealt with the original sin of slavery.”
“The world will see how inspiring democracy is when Trump leaves the White House peacefully.”
Plenary 2: China vs. Democracy: The Greatest Game On the record
Executive Director, Editorial Initiatives, POLITICO
Former Chairperson, Democratic Party and Former Member, Legislative Council
Senator from Delaware, United States Senate
Member of Parliament, U.K. House of Commons
As an existential threat to liberal democracies, China looms large as a generational challenge for the rules-based international order. Panelists weighed in today on some of the urgent challenges and solutions awaiting the new US administration when it comes to China’s increasing aggression on the world stage. How will 2020 change China’s relationship to the world? And what is the best, most tangible way to combat China’s aggressive diplomacy? Admiral Davidson felt that the United States has its work cut out for it in the Indo-Pacific – especially if America hopes to knit together its allies and partners, preserve the freedoms that come with that network and ensure access to the seas, skyways, cyberspace, and space for those nations interested in cooperating with each other. Paula Dobriansky believes that the wave of the future is agile alignments and partnerships, where very different countries can come together to counter the threat posed by China.
Although the outgoing Trump administration stood up to China, Senator Chris Coons believes that a more coordinated and diplomatic strategy will have greater impact. He hoped the new US President-elect will use his foreign-policy background to re-invigorate democratic alliances and provide a unified check on the rise of China. Liam Fox believes that the rules-based international order needs a few updates to reflect the importance of technology and financial transparency in the 21st century. Kenneth Braithwaite saw China’s rise playing out dramatically across the seas and that in order to join the great powers of the world, they must become a maritime nation.
The people of Hong Kong are on the front lines of China’s aggression and are fighting for freedom in the face of daunting obstacles. Emily Lau knows that the people of Hong Kong are frightened and are looking to democratic leaders for strength and solidarity. She appealed to leaders gathered at HFX2020 to stand with the people of Hong Kong in standing up to China.
Ai Weiwei underscored the risks for citizens who stand up against the Chinese Regime. Simply put, you cannot ask for justice in China. Mike Pompeo believes that all of us have a moral responsibility to think through our activities with China, and whether those activities are in our own national security interests.
At the end of the day, Western powers must believe wholeheartedly in the power of democracy. After all, if we don’t believe in our institutions, why should anyone else?
“It’s not free to stand up to China. China wants to set examples around the world so that other countries won’t challenge them.”
“The convergence around the idea of a free and open Indo-Pacific is what is bringing free nations in the Indo-Pacific together.”
“Countries that aren’t necessarily democracies are being brought into the fold, because of the economic challenges that are being created by China not following the rules.”
“The issue today is that we don’t have safe humanitarian space for neutral and impartial humanitarian action based on needs, and not on political needs or priorities.”
“Money speaks very loudly and China has a lot of money to spend.”
“The peaceful and orderly transition of power is one of the hallmarks of American democracy. Right now, President Trump is teaching exactly the wrong lessons about how we practice democracy here in the US.”
“Everything China does in the international sphere is a test of our resolve.”
Featured Speakers On the record
Commander, United States Indo-Pacific Command
Senior Fellow, The Future of Diplomacy Project, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
Secretary, United States Navy
President and CEO, HIAS
Senator from Virginia, United States Senate
President, Freedom House
Secretary of State, United States Department of State
“The real China challenge for the world’s democracies is how to cooperate effectively with each other,” Peter Van Praagh, the forum’s president, tells us. “… Now is the time for democracies to modernize the international system created upon victory 75 years ago to ensure that peace, prosperity and freedom are readily within reach.”
The great question facing the free world is how to deal with the PRC in this new era of competition. One answer is provided in a new “handbook” for democracies, published this week by the Halifax International Security Forum (HFX) to coincide with its annual conference. The handbook, entitled “China Vs. Democracy: The Greatest Game,” is a primer on how the PRC threatens the open global society that is the source for most of its own wealth and power.
Peter Van Praagh, the founding and current president of the security forum, said when it became clear during the summer that COVID considerations would not allow participants to congregate in Halifax, the initial thought was to postpone because the human element is so important. But participants from around the globe called for it to continue.
HFX President Peter Van Praagh joined Steve Murphy on CTV News Atlantic to discuss the agenda for HFX2020 and the demand from participants from all around the world to continue with this year’s Forum, despite all the obstacles.
China’s foreign policy will be top of mind during this year’s Halifax International Security Forum, an annual gathering of defense and security leaders from democratic countries that kicks off on Friday. Corridors spoke with founding president Peter Van Praagh about this year’s (virtual) event.
“The year 2020 witnessed a paradigm shift in the democratic world’s understanding of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP),” said the forum’s president Peter Van Praagh. “(President) Xi Jinping’s China is now the most powerful authoritarian state in history. HFX’s Handbook for Democracies gives policy makers, journalists, businesses, and members of the public a comprehensive guide to what we are up against.”