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Canada - Korea Relations

Canada has long enjoyed positive relations with the Republic of Korea (commonly known as South Korea). The friendly bilateral relationship continues to develop as South Korea becomes an increasingly important economic partner and a like-minded ally in multilateral forums. As trading nations, Canada and South Korea support trade liberalization and share membership in many multilateral economic organizations including the G20, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). Both countries also share similar views on many multilateral and global issues, including strengthening the multilateral trading system, UN Security Council reform, human rights and nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.

Historical Roots

Korea-Canada relations date back to 1888, when Canadian missionary James Scarth Gale of Toronto was first sent to Korea. Famous in Korea for his creation of the first Korean-English dictionary, Gale also prepared the first Korean translation of the Christian Bible, and wrote the first substantial English-language history of Korea. Noted scholar and philanthropist Dr. Oliver Avison was a personal physician to King Gojong and founded the Severance Hospital in Seoul, and the medical college that became Yonsei University. Dr. Francis Schofield of Guelph, Ontario, became a national hero in Korea for his participation in the 1919 Independence Movement against Japanese colonial rule. Dr. Schofield is the only foreigner to be buried in the patriots' section of the Korea National Cemetery.

Canada’s official involvement in Korea began in 1947, when Canada participated in the United Nations Commission supervising free elections. Formal recognition of the Republic of Korea (ROK) followed in 1949. Canada contributed 26,791 troops, the third-largest contingent, to United Nations Command (UNC) in the 1950-53 Korean War and suffered 516 fatalities. Since the end of the Korean War, Canada has contributed to security on the Korean peninsula through its continuing presence on the UNC Military Armistice Commission and UN Command. Canada and Korea established formal diplomatic relations in 1963 and, 10 years later, Canada opened its Embassy in South Korea. In 2013, Canada and Korea celebrated the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations. Both countries designated 2013 the Year of Korea in Canada and the Year of Canada in Korea. As 2013 also marked the 60th anniversary of the Korean War Armistice, Canada and Korea participated in both bilateral and multilateral commemoration ceremonies and activities, underlining the bonds of friendship formed during the Korean War, a defining period in the development of our relations. In 2013, Canada designated July 27 – the anniversary date of the end of active hostilities – as an annual Day of Remembrance in Honour of Veterans of the Korean War.

South Korea's rapid development, democratic evolution and growing regional and international interests, together with its entry into the United Nations in 1991 and accession to the OECD Development Assistance Committee in 2010 have enhanced co-operation between Canada and Korea in a number of areas such as arms control, disarmament, peacekeeping, and development assistance. In addition, Canada and Korea share membership in the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) forum, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and the World Trade Organization (WTO), amongst others.

Bilateral Trade

South Korea is Canada’s 7th largest merchandise trading partner and our 3rd largest in Asia, after China and Japan. Canada-South Korea two-way merchandise trade is robust, reaching nearly$ 11.9 billion in 2015. Canadian merchandise exports to South Korea were $ 4.03 billion while Canadian merchandise imports were$ 7.88 billion. Canada’s top merchandise exports to South Korea include mineral fuels and oils, cereals wood pulp, mineral ores, and meat. Canada’s top merchandise imports from South Korea include vehicles, electrical and electronic equipment, machinery, and iron and steel.

People-to-People Linkages and Academic Relations

People-to-people contacts have grown rapidly. On average, 7,000 South Korean immigrants have arrived on an annual basis between 1999 and 2008, bringing the number of Canadians of Korean origin to more than 170,000. There are more than 23,000 Canadians living in South Korea, including more than 3,200 English teachers.

Regional Security

Contemporary Canadian interest in South Korea arises from Canada's desire to ensure continued stability on the peninsula and regionally, and to enhance our important and growing bilateral relationship. Canada and South Korea are partners in promoting global peace and security. We are both active multilateralists committed to the UN system and cooperate on security issues in other fora such as the ASEAN Regional Forum and APEC. We each have important alliances with the United States. 

Canada firmly supports South Korea's continuing efforts to improve relations with North Korea (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) and to lessen tensions on the divided peninsula. North and South technically remain at war, as hostilities were concluded with an armistice, not a peace treaty. Canada remains gravely concerned about North Korea’s provocative and destabilizing actions, such as nuclear and missile tests and related proliferation, as well as egregious human rights abuses. Canada strongly supports the Six-Party Talks framework as a means to address the North Korean nuclear crisis.

Over recent years, Canada has enhanced its presence in United Nations Command (UNC), which oversees the implementation of the Korean War Armistice Agreement via the UNC’s Military Armistice Commission. Canada has also increased its role in joint and combined exercises to contribute to stability and security in the region. Canada has five Canadian Forces members embedded in UNC and participates in developing strategic policy and planning, multinational coordination and contingency planning. Canada is committed to meaningful participation in security and stability exercises conducted on the peninsula and in recent years has provided over 50%  of the UNC sending state participants to Exercise Ulchi Freedom Guardian. Canada and Korea’s mutual interest in peace and stability has been further reinforced by our important and growing trade and economic cooperation.

January 2015

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