The beginning of any celebration – especially one that spans over a number of days – is usually comprised of a giddy sequence of exultant speeches and activities. The celebration of ‘Korea Week’ (June 25 – July 1) was a bit of an exception to this tradition as the first event of the week began with a frank and thoughtful status checkup tinged with a note of caution. Last night, former Canadian Ambassador to Korea Mr. Len Edwards reflected on the Korea-Canada diplomatic relationship at the 50th year mark and its future outlook in a speech titled “50 Years and Counting: Forging a Successful Future Canada-Korea Relationship”.
Mr. Edwards revealed that his life in Korea as Canadian Ambassador during the early 90s started his and his family’s love affair with Korea. He highlighted successes that the two countries saw as a result of their close relationship during the past 50 years. However, Mr. Edwards swiftly moved onto pointing out the challenges, most notably, the mindsets that were developed by each country of the other in recent years. Views such as Canada’s that Korea still has not fully embraced free market and economic openness and Korea’s that Canada is not a significant enough strategic partner both need to be addressed and overcome. To do so, Mr. Edwards urged each country to recognize the strategic value that the other country can bring in the areas of economic and security governance, and dealings with Asia-Pacific regional affairs. He reflected of the similarities that Canada and Korea share: their position as exporters and of being next door to major powers (US and China respectively).
Mr. Edwards further noted that the 3 areas in which Canada and Korea must work together are energy, science and technology, and trade. Korea must recognize that Canada will remain a long-term energy supplier. Canada must recognize that Korea has much to contribute in the science and technology sector. The two countries need to find a new dimension for both to work together, particularly through private sector partnerships. Lamenting the stalled FTA negotiations between the two countries, Mr. Edwards asserted that we need to set aside the traditional views of each other and compromise to complete the trade negotiations, as the failure would mean a huge loss for both.
Mr. Edwards also encouraged the building of a people-to-people based bilateral relationship, whether it would mean a greater flow of exchange via the means of temporary work permits or tourism, among others.
Being at a critical junction in our path to a new relationship with each other, making the right decisions now will steer us in the right direction to ensure that the next 50 years will continue to be prosperous, dynamic and positive for both countries. Despite the cautionary tone, Mr. Edwards struck an optimistic note in his conclusion.