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[Herald Interview] ‘Canada wholehearted on global leadership amid 150th anniversary’

By Joel Lee
  • Published : Jul 3, 2017 - 18:20
  • Updated : Jul 3, 2017 - 18:33

With celebrations of Canada’s 150th Confederation anniversary scheduled throughout this year, there will be ampler space for Canada and Korea to cooperate within the international sphere, Canadian Ambassador to Korea Eric Walsh said, pointing to Ottawa’s intention to play a larger role in global affairs.

During a parliamentary speech at the House of Commons in Ottawa on June 6, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said Canada will “step up” to assume a greater share of international obligation and engagement in a diplomatic vacuum created by Washington.

“Whatever their politics, Canadians understand that, as a middle power living next to the world’s only super power, Canada has a huge interest in an international order based on rules,” the journalist-turned-diplomat argued. She urged “like-minded” middle power nations to collaborate closely.

Echoing her argument, Walsh, in an interview with The Korea Herald, stressed that “the rules-based international order is critical for our success” and that Canada “will actively defend that in order to ensure its long-term success.”

Canadian Ambassador to Korea Eric Walsh (Joel Lee/The Korea Herald)

For Walsh, such a scenario presents more opportunities to work with Korea, also a middle power nation committed to global good governance through various regional and multilateral platforms. Seoul is part of MIKTA -- an informal alliance of middle powers Mexico, Indonesia, Korea, Turkey and Australia -- dedicated to constructive diplomacy and sustainable development.

Canada is committed to a whole array of issues, the envoy stressed, ranging from curbing climate change and strengthening democracy to enhancing women’s rights and increasing development assistance around the world.

“Canada and Korea are natural partners with a complementary trade structure and cutting-edge scientific and innovation cooperation,” Walsh said last week. “We are stronger when we work together. We can invest our resources in various regional and international organizations like the United Nations to make them institutionally strong and stable.”

Canada and Korea have a bilateral free trade agreement that entered into force on Jan. 1, 2015. Unlike in many advanced countries, where opposition to free trade is increasingly clamorous, the public opinion in Canada toward trade has been positive thanks to the progressive trade agenda designed for inclusive growth, the ambassador said. 

Canadian Ambassador to Korea Eric Walsh (Joel Lee/The Korea Herald)

“When we were negotiating the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with the European Union, it was clear that if we wanted to get support for it on both sides, we would have to bring along our middle class and show them how the agreement would actually benefit the ordinary people,” he said. “We had to be more clear and transparent about showing that the deal actually benefits mom-and-pop stores as much as giant corporations, through enhanced labor standards, environmental regulations and lower price of goods. The accord was an opportunity to modernize how we think about international trade.”

The trade between Canada and Korea is complementary, he explained, with Canada largely exporting natural resources and agricultural goods alongside technological innovation, and Korea exporting its advanced industrial goods, electronic appliances and automobiles.

As Ottawa boosts its contribution to the worldwide coalition against global warming -- by offering over $2 billion through 2020 to help developing countries transition to the low carbon economy -- Canada desires to work hand in hand with Korea through the Green Climate Fund in Songdo, a global fund of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, according to Walsh.

Under the liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Ottawa has strengthened its commitment to climate mitigation, a radical departure from the past decade of Conservative rule. Its policies center on boosting support for renewable energies, clean technologies, innovation and entrepreneurship. The government has also adopted a national carbon pricing scheme adapted to specific circumstances of each province and territory. 

Canadian Ambassador to Korea Eric Walsh (Joel Lee/The Korea Herald)

Canadian enterprises are involved in wide-ranging innovative projects, including carbon capture and storage, energy grid and storage and other emissions innovation. 

Walsh signed the Science, Technology and Innovation Agreement with the Korean government in December last year, designed for enlarging civilian cooperation in aviation and space, the environment, energy and clean technology, life sciences, medical devices and information and communications technology.

“It’s a big step for us to take with Korea,” the diplomat said, adding Canada has been traditionally strong in research, but unable to fully reap the benefits by commercializing its innovations. “Korea has a great track record of innovating and also selling it, so it’s an excellent natural partnership in science and technology.”

The accord provides an institutional framework for various kinds of scientific innovation, he said, mentioning that graduate students and researchers of both countries are collaborating through exchange programs covering disparate fields. As Canada’s economy strongly rests on resource extraction, forestry and agriculture, much potential lies in harnessing technologies that make production more efficient, sustainable and environment-friendly, he said.

Korean singer Jang Sa-ik performs at a reception marking the 150th anniversary of Canada's Confederation at Four Seasons Hotel Seoul on Friday. (Joel Lee/The Korea Herald)

Touching on Canada’s successful immigration and social integration, Walsh underscored that Canadian politicians across the political spectrum have strongly supported the open door policy.

“It’s very difficult for countries to maintain the level of skills needed in a competitive world by closing their borders,” the envoy said, adding Canada annually accepts 300,000 outsiders. “As our official languages are lingua franca English and French, it’s much easier for newcomers to settle in Canada. Our government also made recent changes to allow foreign students at our universities to continue to work in the country and be on a citizenship track.”

On the question of refugees, for which Ottawa has pledged to receive 25,000, the diplomat said, “It’s important for us to set an example to the world. Show them that a modern democratic middle power cannot pick and choose what it prefers.”

He added, “Although the number is a tiny fraction on a global scale, the outpouring support for them in Canada -- with people opening their homes and communities warmly welcoming their new neighbors -- was overwhelming. What’s more important is that they and their children will be Canadians. We have to continue to work on that to demonstrate that an open and inclusive society is seen as a valuable thing.”

Former Korean Prime Minister Chung Un-chan speaks at a reception marking the 150th anniversary of Canada's Confederation at Four Seasons Hotel Seoul on Friday. (Joel Lee/The Korea Herald)

Korea, for its part, can be Northeast Asia’s hub of international talent and professionals, by maintaining an inclusive and tolerant multicultural society, the envoy suggested. He also encouraged young Korean job seekers and students to visit Canada through the International Experience Canada program -- previously called the working holiday scheme -- which annually welcomes 5,000 people to travel and work from coast to coast.

As part of the 150th anniversary celebrations, the embassy organized a Creating Writing Contest for Youth on the theme of 150; participated in Francophonie celebrations across Korea dedicated to the French language and culture; and showcased its literature at the Seoul International Book Fair.

The diplomatic mission also operates a Special Open House for Youth throughout the year, illuminating Canada’s 150-year history, and will participate in the Korea Queer Culture Festival to spotlight Canada’s support for diversity and inclusion of LGBT individuals.

It will feature at the Diaspora Film Festival in Incheon in May the Canadian television sitcom “Kim’s Convenience,” a series about a Korean Canadian family running a convenience store in Toronto, which premiered on the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. channel last October and became popular.

In January next year, it will help organize a sports event, tentatively titled, “The Imjin Hockey Classic,” commemorating the hockey matches played by Canadian soldiers on the frozen Imjin River during the 1950-53 Korean War. Several Canadian veterans who played the game on the sidelines of the battlefield will be invited ahead of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics.

By Joel Lee (joel@heraldcorp.com)