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Canada-Korea Relations: A Strengthened Friendship

Address to the Canada-Korea Society Dinner Meeting

by Hon. David Kilgour

Member of Parliament for Edmonton Southeast and Secretary of State (Asia-Pacific)

Four Points Sheraton Hull-Ottawa

29 May 2002

*Check Against Delivery

As the World Cup of Soccer begins on Friday this week, it is particularly timely to be speaking on Korea-Canada relations. Unfortunately, I cannot predict a great final match between our two teams since Canada is not represented this year, but for the record please note that the last time our teams met the victory was to Canada. Seriously, I wish the Korean team great success in its matches against Poland, Portugal, and the US.

In a word, the Canada-Korea partnership has never been more important, deeper and escalating more briskly as we enter the 40th year of official diplomatic relations. Institutions like the Presbyterian Church in Canada first connected with Koreans more than a century ago. Various Canadians, including Luther Young, James Scarth Gale, the Hall family, and, of course, Dr. Frank Schofield were central in building the early relationship between our peoples. Luther Young was the Presbyterian missionary who worked with Korean communities in Japan during those trying years prior to the Second World War. Frank Schofield played a very courageous role in the Korean liberation movement. Other Canadian missionaries played less dramatic but no less influential roles.

Canadians who taught science and maths in those early days planted important seeds too. They formed part of the basis for the modern Korean education system. It, as the world should know, was a major reason for the astonishingly rapid emergence of Korea as a modern, industrialized nation over the past twenty years.

These examples of partnership--and many others like them--provided the foundation upon which we are still building: in government, through business endeavours, academic and educational circles, and spiritual and cultural connections.

Korean War

None among you needs to be reminded that Canada also went to war for Korea. Canadian veterans of the Korean War, a conflict remembered as the bloodiest battle of the cold war, are rightly receiving deserved attention recently. Almost 30,000 Canadian soldiers saw action in the conflict, and over 500 lives were lost. To commemorate this contribution, new memorials to the Canadian effort have been built in Canada and Korea. The Korean government has sponsored an effort to enable veterans to return to Korea to visit the memorials and sites. These efforts deepen and add strength to the partnership between our nations; indeed, the Korean government and people have clearly not forgotten the Canadians who fought to preserve Korea’s freedom.

Immigration and economic ties

Despite this long history of interaction between our two peoples, it has been primarily during the past twenty years when the partnership has significantly deepened. Since 1980, Canadian immigration and trade patterns have shifted dramatically: Canada began to receive more immigrants from Asia and the Korean economy opened up. Simultaneously, the Korean economy has made a remarkable emergence as a regional economic powerhouse based on a high tech manufacturing base.

Immigrants bring much to their new country: investments, entrepreneurial skills, new businesses and employment, values and awareness, and the energy to build secular and spiritual institutions. It is also a much noticed fact that at present, more than ever before, newcomers retain deep ties with their homeland through family and cultural associations such as Canada Korea Society. These ties, aided by communications and travel, bring peoples together in a very concrete manner.

The partnership between Canada and Korea is bridged in this manner, and it goes well beyond mere statistics. Nonetheless, the figures are worth noting. The Korean community in Canada, now about 150,000 strong, has played an essential role in strengthening our relationship. There are many newcomers each year in Canada from Korea. I was delighted to learn that the Korean government reports Canada as the first choice for potential immigrants. Korea was in fact Canada’s 5th greatest source of immigrants in 2001, a number which has greatly increased since 1996. Korean immigrants to Canada are having a major economic impact on their new country.

Fully 80% of Koreans who immigrate here fall in the “skilled” category; among these, six in ten have backgrounds in the vital computer and engineering fields. It is worth highlighting that Korea is the number one source country for business immigrants to Canada: this meant over $150 million invested by them into the Canadian economy in 2001 alone.

But Korean-Canadians have brought much more than economic muscle and skill to Canada: cities and towns are much richer thanks to the unique cuisine of the peninsula. Kim-chi and walnut cakes are hard to beat. Tae Kwon Do, a demonstration of which many of us were able to view earlier this week, is also a growing sport in Canada. In fact, the world championships were held in my home city of Edmonton in 1999. Korean Presbyterian congregations in Canada have been among the most dynamic in the country. In short, the Korean community is making a lasting impact on Canadian life.

Tae E Lee

This contribution is not limited to one activity or endeavour, but stretches across the arts, academia, industry, and commerce. Let me use two prominent members of the community as examples. I mentioned a moment ago a performance of Tae Kwon Do earlier this week. It was a truly unique event, commemorating 25 years of Tae Kwon Do instruction in Canada by Grandmaster Tae E. Lee. In fact, the gala was part of the Tae E. Lee week in Ottawa, as deservedly declared by the mayor! Thousands of children have received instruction from Mr. Lee over the years. Furthermore, some of his newest programs are designed for participants with special needs. A future goal is to enter Tae Kwon Do into the Special Olympics.

A second example comes from the second generation in the community. Pianist Lucille Chung of Montreal is not yet thirty, but is already an accomplished and globally recognized concert pianist. Her début came at the age of ten with the Montréal Symphony Orchestra. Since then, she has won many competitions and played with orchestras around the world, including the Seoul Philharmonic. Recently, she won the prestigious Canada Arts Council Virginia Parker Prize.

Our two countries have much to learn from each other. Korean university students have demonstrated a keen interest in studying at Canadian schools and universities. According to The Korea Herald, 15% of all Korean students studying internationally are now doing so in Canada. These students, studying primarily in BC and Ontario, are important for a number of reasons. In simple economic terms, foreign students contribute an estimated $4 billion to the Canadian economy every year. Of this Korean students contribute $500 million per year. The Universities of British Columbia and Toronto both have established programs at ‘Sister Institutions’ in Korea to sponsor exchange and knowledge transfer.

Canadians are also leaving their mark on the Korean educational system. Up to 2000 Canadians leave for Korea each year to teach English. This experience can often result in a long-term ‘relationship’ with all things Korean. There are also several Canadian studies programs at Korean universities. This goodwill, although hard to quantify, often returns a dividend well into the future. Certainly, it is a powerful force in the relations between nations.

The integration of the two economies and cultures is not purely ‘academic’ and educational. Our economies have grown much more intimate, especially in the last twenty years.

These close ties are not the results of efforts by one government, business, or organisation. Our two nations share many commonalities despite several obvious, but superficial differences in language, culture, and history. Both nations have a common economic connection to the US, but also a desire to expand trading into Latin America and other parts of Asia. Both nations have mid-sized economies, educated populations, and are fully integrated into the main trading organisations, including APEC and the WTO.

Additionally, the main products of our two economies are not generally close competitors, and we can be considered ‘natural trading partners’. Aided by a ‘Special Partnership’ signed in 1993 which reviews issues related to bilateral trade, Korea has become Canada’s eighth largest trading partner.

Asian Flu

Since the Asian Flu of 1997, Korea’s economy has re-bounded exceptionally with some assistance from the international community and the IMF, including over $1B from Canadians. During the ‘IMF Years’, Koreans demonstrated an impressive resilience, leading the recovery in the group of Asian ‘newly industrialized countries’-- the ‘Tigers’. This was tested again in 2001 after the attacks of September 11th. Policy-makers feared that an unavoidable global recession would be particularly traumatic. However, despite some decline in trade flows last year for both our nations, recovery has been surprisingly swift, and gross trade flows are expected to grow into the future. As natural trading partners, this means a continuation of Korea sending Canada a wealth of consumer goods and receiving in return our natural resources and industrial goods.

But the nature of trade flows develops as relationships mature and economies diversify. Canada’s own economy is remarkably different from that of twenty years ago. Canada now has a diversified, advanced economy with a truly global reach.

Let me illustrate the importance of Canada- Korea trade relationship in the context of this new economic reality: Canadian firms were the second greatest source of foreign direct investment in Korea in 2001. Over $2.4 billion was invested by Canadian firms last year. This is helping to build high-tech, tourism, and natural resources industries in Korea.

One example of this is a new Canadian-Korean partnership called TELSK, operating in the telecoms field. This firm, a help desk for its parent the SK Group and the only one of its kind in Korea, employs 425 people and fields around 500,000 calls per year. Tigerdev Inc., a resort developer active elsewhere in Asia, has recently announced its intention to invest $100 million to build a new ski resort in Korea. Other Canadian companies such as Abitibi Consolidated and Alcan have had major investments in Korea for several years.

Canada-Korea Society Role

The Canada Korea Society was very supportive of measures in the late 1990's - the "IMF Years"- to promote Korea's economic recovery, which included opening up the Korean economy to outside investors. One extremely interesting example of this was a new joint venture involving Abitibi Consolidated, Norske Skog of Norway and Hansol Paper of Korea to create the largest newsprint operation in the Asia Pacific region. This was explained by a senior executive of Abitibi in March, 1999, to a meeting of the Society, which gave it strong support. The Society has been promoting better understanding, cooperation and friendship between Canada and Korea for last 18 years since it's establishment.

However, the Special Partnership and past successes do not assure that Canadian business can easily continue to expand our trade flows. Several barriers to completely free trade remain, but happily these problems are being addressed in a variety of ways. There is the issue of proximity to markets, but the shift away from old economy exports, for example natural resources, to more transportable ‘new economy’ commodities like services reduces this impact. Both countries continue to maintain certain barriers to trade in the form of duties and quotas. These are being addressed through an ongoing diplomatic dialogue. Lastly, some cultural and language barriers cannot be ignored entirely. This audience itself is a testament to lowering such barriers through cooperation and partnership.

Next year will bring the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Canada and Korea. This is big. The embassies and Foreign Ministries have already begun to plan use this date to underscore the importance of the partnership.

But clearly, these diplomatic relations are more than just a means to increase trade and share culture. There is one diplomatic issue which must be raised in such a discussion: The tension in the peninsula and the security threat due to Korea’s proximity and historical connections with North Korea. Canada continues to support the ‘Sunshine Policy’ and progress towards stability in the peninsula. Canada remains a staunch supporter of Korea, and normalisation of relations with North Korea.

Cultural-Political Ties

The Canada Korea Society is well positioned to deepen the already excellent understanding between our two peoples, especially on the cultural front. There are many things this association has done and can do in the future. The relationship receives new attention from events such as the Korea-Canada friendship week planned for later this year. The Terry Fox Run, an event run across Canada for many years, takes place yearly now in Seoul. Last year it raised over $25,000 for cancer research in Korea. In Canada, local cultural associations and the Canada Korea Society have been working on building friendship and understanding for close to 20 years.

One of the most basic means for building cultural awareness is short-term travel. Tourism is a fast growing industry between Canada and Korea. It is also a good benchmark for judging interest in each other and interaction between countries. In fact, over fifty thousand Canadians visited Korea in 2001. Korea became the fastest growing destination for Canadian tourists in all of Asia. Meanwhile, over 150,000 Koreans came to Canada for short stays last year.

Over the coming months, Korea will take a prominent position on the world stage. Soccer will dominate the domestic landscape in Korea–and perhaps everywhere else-- for the next month. Korea is about to become, along with co-host Japan, the first nation to host a World Cup in Asia. We Canadians do understand the boisterous and exuberant Korean sense of sport nationalism. The World Cup will be a chance for the country to put its enormous people and other assets and unique culture on display for the world.


Canada has a unique relationship with Korea. Koreans and Korea have already made a large impact on this country. The future for political, economic, and cultural ties looks very bright indeed. As one final example take the case of foreign students. I hope we can continue to see the number of Korean students soar in our country. The number has almost doubled in the last three years, growing from to 8,500 in 1998 to over 15,000 in 2001.

In conclusion, let me thank your president, John Harrington. I understand that he is retiring from the post this year, and so I would like to thank him on behalf of the government of Canada for his extraordinary efforts over the last nine years in the role.

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