Canadian Ambassador Eric Walsh had prior postings likely coming into his new position as Canada’s top envoy to Korea.
Before being appointed in February, Walsh was the director of East and North Asia relations in the Canadian government in Ottawa, and had been posted in Berlin, Bucharest and Geneva.
As relations between Canada and Korea become increasingly intertwined through free trade, immigration and education, Walsh said he had reason to be optimistic about the future.
“Things are going well between our two countries, and I want to keep up the flow of good news for our shared prosperity and security,” he told The Korea Herald last week. “My No. 1 goal is to get value out of the Canada-Korea free trade agreement, which came into force this year.”
Canadian Ambassador Eric Walsh (Joel Lee/The Korea Herald)
Last year bore fruitful results in bilateral relations, with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President Park Geun-hye exchanging visits and establishing a strategic partnership, the envoy said.
He plans to keep the momentum going by promoting corporate awareness of the free trade agreement; bolstering the annual strategic dialogue with concrete initiatives; and strengthening cooperation in science, technology and innovation.
Walsh highlighted cooperation in science and engineering, which has secured a $1 million annual budget under the Canadian government’s Economic Action Plan.
The two countries established diplomatic ties in 1963, and cooperate through the OECD, G20 and APEC. Koreans make up the third-largest group of international students in Canada after China and India.
Canada’s priorities regarding Korea are somewhere between large countries like the U.S. and smaller countries like New Zealand, the ambassador explained.
Most fundamentally, the two countries share a blood-sealed relationship from the Korean War (1950-53), to which Canada dispatched 26,000 troops as part of United Nations forces. Over 500 Canadians died.
The 42-year-old envoy expressed pride in his job, following in the footsteps of celebrated Canadian ambassadors in Korea, including three who became deputy ministers in the Canadian government.
“As a diplomat, I am steadfastly nonpartisan and feel more comfortable that way,” Walsh stressed. “The Canadian bureaucracy profusely provides nonpartisan advice to the government of the day, and loyally implements decisions by the government of the day.”
Taking the helm at the embassy ― where some 15 Canadian and 40 Korean staff work ― keeps him fully occupied, he said.
In high school, Walsh took an interest in foreign policy and wanted to represent his country in his career. He passed the Foreign Service exam while working on a master’s degree in Russian and European studies at the University of Toronto.
“I sometimes feel undereducated with only a bachelor’s degree, but as people say, ‘A bird in hand is worth two in the bush’ ― I have never felt l’m stagnating in my job,” he said. “Over the last 20 years of my diplomatic career, I’ve come to appreciate engaging diverse tasks, peoples and cultures.”
The ambassador shed light on Canada’s successful immigration and multiculturalism. At City Hall in Toronto, his hometown, over 100 languages are available, and children grow up in a multiethnic environment.
“Our cultural mosaic has created a highly tolerant society and enriched the Canadian life,” he said. “Unlike some European countries, both liberals and conservatives across the political spectrum have favored immigration.”
He underscored that creating a harmonious multicultural society in Korea would take time and generations.
Regarding the inter-Korean relations, Walsh said he remains an “optimist at heart,” based on his expertise in Geneva and experience in former communist countries. He visited North Korea once prior to his posting.
“I lived in Germany between 2010 and 2015, and witnessed the ongoing process of integration,” he said. “I also lived in Romania, where I learned about the 1989 Romanian Revolution. The popular revolt that started in a country town of Timisoara toppled the Ceausescu regime in merely two weeks.”
Although contingencies and complications exist on the Korean Peninsula, Walsh was optimistic about the prospect of unification once the two sides built trust.
Walsh’s family consists of his wife and two old cats ― Mado and Meze ― picked up on the streets of Ankara, Turkey, in 1999 during his posting there.
The ambassador is a vegetarian, although not a vegan. “I like the vegetable-based Korean cuisine, especially temple dishes,” he said.
He also likes traveling and plans to visit all corners of Korea.
The embassy will host events near Canada Day on July 1, in addition to supporting Canadian films at the 20th Busan International Film Festival in October. The next Canada education fair will be held in November at Coex in Seoul, where over 60 universities, colleges, secondary and language schools from Canada will participate.
By Joel Lee (email@example.com)