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Tina J. Park is CEO of The Park Group and a lecturer in Canadian nationalism at the University of Toronto.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s official visit with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol in Seoul this week signals a new turning point in the Canadian-Korean relationship, as the two nations vowed to work closely together on trade, energy and regional security issues. Under the slogan “Stronger Together,” the two leaders reviewed the significant progress achieved in implementing the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership and agreed to work closely together on economic security and freedom and democracy. The two governments also signed a memorandum of understanding on critical minerals, the clean energy transition and energy security. Such intense attention by political leaders and ministers from both sides is truly unprecedented.

Yet, much work lies ahead in terms of implementing these visions and aspirations, and navigating through various levels of legal and cultural nuances. For far too long, Canada has been timid in marketing itself in the Korean market, and Koreans have turned their attention elsewhere. For Koreans, understanding the complexities of Indigenous and treaty rights and successfully navigating federal-provincial relations has required extra effort and patience. In the past, many Korean companies have tried and failed to successfully collaborate with Canadian companies, and found it frustrating to do business in Canada.

South Korea is Canada’s seventh largest trading partner, with a two-way merchandise trade of $21.9-billion, and the economic relationship between the countries is projected to grow. As the world’s 10th largest economy, South Korea’s economic prowess, along with the fascination for Korean pop culture, commonly known as “Hallyu,” have garnered interest around the world.

None of this could have been predicted back in the 1880s, when a handful of missionaries were sent from the University of Toronto to build schools and hospitals in the Hermit Kingdom, or in the aftermath of the Korean War, when Canadian families and relief agencies were actively engaged with adopting Korean orphans and sending humanitarian aid. Thanks to its participation in the Korean War, Canada enjoys an exceptionally positive legacy in the South Korean public psyche. More than 200,000 Canadians identify as being of Korean origin, and more than 27,000 Canadians currently reside in Korea, including about 3,200 English language teachers. Such deep intellectual and personal connections are fundamental in understanding the bond between the two countries.

There has also been increased political momentum between the two nations. Mr. Yoon’s visit to Ottawa last fall was his first bilateral overseas visit since his inauguration. Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly has visited Korea three times in the last few months, and Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne has been actively engaging with the private sector in Korea, focusing on creating reliable supply chains and the clean energy transition. The inaugural high-level economic security dialogue this week marked a firm resolution between Ottawa and Seoul to reinforce an open, predictable and sustainable regional economic order. These high-level visits matter, because the world is full of distractions and competitions, and it is in Canadian interest to work with South Korea.

In an era of increased tensions between the United States and China, the Russian war in Ukraine, and the prevalence of cyber threats, Canada needs more allies in the Indo-Pacific region. From North Korea’s nuclear weapons to Chinese hackers and influence operations, these threats will also affect Canadian ways of life. Defending the rules-based international order is a team effort.

In our efforts to meet net zero emissions targets and fight against global climate change, Canadian-Korean co-operation in the energy sector will be absolutely critical. The inaugural Canada-Korea Energy Forum, which coincided with Mr. Trudeau’s visit to Korea, saw over 100 industry leaders, academics, political leaders and civil servants get together in Seoul to strengthen co-operation in critical minerals, nuclear energy, batteries, and clean technologies. The burgeoning private sector interest in both countries is most sensible, when we consider that South Korea imports 96 per cent of its domestic energy needs, and Canada, as one of the world’s leading energy exporters, is seeking to expand its clean energy portfolio. It is no surprise that 70 per cent of South Korea’s total investments in Canada have been in the energy sector.

Canada’s new Indo-Pacific strategy, and the new spark in the bilateral relationship between Canada and Korea, all point in the right direction. It is a recognition that Canada can no longer remain as a passive bystander in the face of geopolitical challenges, old and new, in Asia. It is encouraging to see strong interest from the Canadian government and Canadian companies that want to capitalize on the strong relationship between the two countries. Koreans are ready to do more business, and Team Canada must seize the opportunity.

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