60 Years Young: Will President Yoon’s Visit to Ottawa Usher in a New Era for Canada-Korea Relations?
► The readout from President Yoon’s meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau underscored that the two countries share a special friendship that is founded on Canada’s support for the South in the Korean War, a mutual commitment to multilateralism, and a desire for economic partnerships that work for everyone.
► Coming on the eve of the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations, the upgrade to a “comprehensive” strategic partnership sets the stage for a set of activities in 2023 that not only celebrate the anniversary but also chart the path for collaboration on specific issues under the five priority areas.
President Yoon Suk-Yul’s visit to Canada last week was his first formal bilateral with a foreign leader. It came on the heels of his speech to the UN General Assembly, in which the President articulated his government’s perspective on recent world events and outlined a vision for Korea’s role in international affairs.
The readout from President Yoon’s meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau underscored that the two countries share a special friendship that is founded on Canada’s support for the South in the Korean War, a mutual commitment to multilateralism, and a desire for economic partnerships that work for everyone.
Notably, the two leaders agreed to enhance the Canada-South Korea bilateral relationship to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership focused on five priorities: defending the rules-based international system, democracy, freedom, human rights, and gender equality; strengthening security and defence partnerships; working together in science, technology, and innovation; promoting trade and investment; and deepening partnerships in health and culture.
Coming on the eve of the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations, the upgrade to a “comprehensive” strategic partnership sets the stage for a set of activities in 2023 that not only celebrate the anniversary but also chart the path for collaboration on specific issues under the five priority areas. It is important that both sides come up with concrete plans as soon as possible and match their words with the financial resources to mark a relationship that should be seen as 60 years young, rather than 60 years old.
The two leaders agreed to strengthen economic security at a time of growing disruption and uncertainty caused by the pandemic and geo-politics. They pledged to deepen cooperation on supply chain resiliency, critical minerals, and batteries for electric vehicles.
In these domains, the complementarities between Korea and Canada are obvious: Canada is a resource rich country with pockets of expertise in renewable energy, including electronic vehicle batteries. Korea, on the other hand, is an advanced manufacturing powerhouse that is reliant on foreign sources for raw materials and intermediate inputs. Both are dependent on access to markets in Asia and North America, notably China and the United States, and buffeted from time to time by protectionist actions.
The case for supply-chain cooperation among trusted partners is a strong one, and Canada and Korea are natural partners. But the two countries are among many other “friendly” countries that are seeking to secure supply of inputs on the one hand and guaranteed access to markets on the other.
Difficult choices will have to be made about the allocation of resources in the context of scarcity and competition. In the weeks prior to President Yoon’s visit, Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany came to Ottawa to also discuss supply-chain cooperation and energy security, as did a high-level delegation from Japan. A similar discussion is happening with the United States, in the context of North American integration.
Canadians are dawning to the realization that the country can play a vital role in improving security of supply of energy and critical minerals to global markets. The appetite to do so is great, but it is mitigated by concerns about setting back Canada’s commitment to meeting its GHG emissions targets and, more importantly, the country’s ability to review, approve and complete infrastructure projects in a timely manner.
In this regard, the first test of Canada’s role as a trusted supplier of vital resources to new markets is the completion of gas liquefaction facilities on the west coast of the country and the associated pipelines that access feedstock from the interior. It has been over a decade since the idea of LNG exports to Asia has been floated as a game changer for energy security in the region. As an investor in the largest LNG project in Canada, KOGAS is a pioneer, but the actual delivery of Canadian LNG to Korea and other Asian markets is still some years away.
Other areas of collaboration such as in health sciences, cultural industries, the digital economy, and artificial intelligence are not as dependent on physical infrastructure but nevertheless require sustained support for Korean and Canadian experts to build relationships for successful joint projects.