As I hold my baby for 13 hours on a flight, I think to myself: it’s a long, long way to Korea. It is hard to dispute that – the total distance from Vancouver (Canada’s Pacific-most major city) to Seoul amounts to over 8,000 kms (just about 5,000 miles).
But on the other hand, we have to put this distance into perspective. The distance between Vancouver to St. John’s (Provincial capital of Newfoundland and Labrador) is approximately 5,000 kms, and to London (England) is almost 7,600 kms. To get to Paris from Vancouver, you will travel as much as you would to get to Seoul (approximately 7,900 kms to be precise).
Yes, Korea is far; but it is just as far as continental Europe, which many don’t seem to perceive as particularly distant. In any case, does geographical distance matter to begin with in this day and age?
Of course, cultural heritage must have something to do with the perception of Korea as being “far”. After all, Canada’s “independence” – which our gentle souls call “Confederation” – took place only in 1867, with only a few of the modern day Provinces; and the Province of Newfoundland remained a formal British Colony until after the end of World War II.
But the culture is shifting. According to Statistics Canada (http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/11-402-x/2011000/chap/imm/imm-eng.htm), visible minorities comprise 63% of Toronto, 59% of Vancouver and 31% of Montreal’s population. By 2031, it is projected that 1 in 3 Canadians will be a visible minority. As of 2001, there were over 100,000 (the size of Kingston, or Moncton) Koreans in Canada and the media recently adjusted that number by twofold (http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorialopinion/article/1264295–south-korea-asia-s-anxious-powerhouse).
Look around you, and I am sure that you’ll find something that was “made in Korea” – perhaps your Samsung cellphone, LG flat screen TV or a Hyundai sedan. Korea is Canada’s 7th largest trading partner (only preceded by NAFTA countries, the UK, Germany and two economic superpowers, China and Japan) and the world’s 7th largest exporter as well. A closer look into the trading pattern will show a more complex and intertwined relationship between Canada and Korea than the story told by the shelf display at a Wal-Mart store.
According to 2010 trade data, Canada imports $6.2 billion worth of products, but also exports $3.7 billion to Korea. Top exports from Canada are energy and related products, followed by wood products by a significant margin. Not surprisingly, most of the other top Canadian exports to Korea are natural resources.
On the other hand, Korea is the value-adder to these natural resources. Top Korea exports to Canada are mostly manufactured goods, led by automobiles, electronics and machineries (http://www.parl.gc.ca/Content/LOP/ResearchPublications/2011-14-e.htm). Viewed in this light, Korea and Canada are dynamically intertwined in a partnership, and a relationship of necessity: Canada provides raw materials, which Korea processes into products and offers to Canadian consumers.