May 13, 2020



Asia’s potential rise as a global education “superpower” coupled with the large-scale exodus of international students from Canadian post-secondary institutions demonstrates the indispensability of knowledge diplomacy to Canada’s pandemic recover process.  


The Global Health Security Index (2019) ranked Canada fifth among 195 countries in terms of its pandemic preparedness. But the COVID-19 pandemic revealed major shortfalls in Canada’s early detection and response capability. The widespread social and economic repercussions could last decades in the absence of a well-designed and effectively coordinated recovery strategy that builds on the unprecedented levels of interdisciplinary knowledge sharing unleashed by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

VSIR Thinking Points 

  • Canada has struggled to define a coherent foreign policy regarding Asia and risks becoming diplomatically and economically marginalized if its COVID-19 pandemic “exit” strategy fails to exploit future engagement opportunities. Beyond small-scale interventions like tactical urbanism (ie.,pop-up bike lanes, pedestrian plazas, parklets) and shovel-ready projects that can be fast-tracked for federal funding approval, municipal and provincial leaders must prioritize strategic investments in next-generation capabilities and mission-critical urban infrastructures that enable them to pivot back and forth in response to emerging risks and opportunities in Asia. 
  • Deepening diplomatic relations with Asia is imperative given Canada’s dependence on the region for exports (ie., manufacturing, tourism, education), consumer products, foreign investment, and immigrants. Intensive urbanization and rapid economic development in Asia mean that Canada’s economic recovery might be accelerated in cities with established overseas connections. For that reason, the experience of South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Vietnam may prove useful when thinking about the design of Canada’s pandemic “exit” strategy and preparing for future coronavirus pandemics. 
  • A coastal urban region, Metropolitan Vancouver’s future development will increasingly be defined by environmental and bioregional constraints. But this can also be the source of creative innovation that closes knowledge gaps and challenges outdated planning conventions. Flexible governance models (ie., the Mayor’s Council, Metro 2050 Intergovernmental Advisory Committee) can facilitate regional coordination and knowledge sharing about sustainable development, especially if leveraged to advance innovative design principles like the ecocity development model. Furthermore, Vancouver’s membership in the C40 Cities and the Global Resilient Cities Network (GRCN) may be a way to engage Asian peer cities on changing the mindset in transportation planning that prioritizes private automobile ownership over active mobility options (ie., motorized bicycles). Health care innovation is another vital area to explore in knowledge diplomacy.        
  • Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada’s education export market was valued at $22 billion. But international travel restrictions and campus closures are a serious constraint on global student mobility. After shutting down education campuses as part of the virus suppression measures, Canadian universities and colleges experienced a large exodus of the international students who returned home to be “safe.” While it is unclear how many of the 640,000 international students may have returned home, the future of education diplomacy in Canada is uncertain. Furthermore, critically important source countries like China and India have their own plans of becoming education “superpowers” that may force Canada to rethink the assumptions embedded in the International Education Strategy (2019-2014)


We have entered a new era of globalization and adjusting to that reality will require a more sophisticated approach to knowledge diplomacy in Asia that effectively balances risk and opportunity. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has caused widespread economic and social devastation, it has also generated an unprecedented level of information sharing and inter-government collaboration. Moving forward it is imperative that Canada prioritize knowledge diplomacy with Asia to avoid becoming marginalized in a two-speed global economy.   

Urban Dispatch summarizes and clarifies contemporary city-related trends, strategic management issues, and research questions. It is intended to provide VSIR clients and interested readers with relevant insights for use in making prompt and informed decisions. Vancouver Strategic & Integrated Research is a catalyst for agile thinking and organizational learning. Further research and analysis of the issues discussed in the Urban Dispatch series is available upon request. Please forward any correspondence to  

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