This second Trump-Kim summit represents a critical window for progress towards peace. The international community, including Canada, should be fully engaged with both Koreas to ensure that peace is made.
Coincidently, it was 18 years ago this February that Canada first established formal diplomatic relations with North Korea. Canada chose to do so in support of South Korea’s then-president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Kim Dae-jung’s policy of engagement with North Korea around issues of food security, human rights, denuclearization and regional stability.
Canada was right to engage with North Korea then. And it should engage with North Korea now. Unfortunately, since 2010, that engagement has turned from “active” to “controlled.” This has meant almost no engagement at all, except for the occasional verbal condemnation of North Korea’s nuclear weapons’ testing and Canada’s participation in sanctions that have had little to no political impact. In fact, these sanctions have only served to further harm women and children by limiting North Korea’s access to medicine and food.
But Canada should be playing an active role in building peace and security on the Korean peninsula.
Sanctions have only served to further harm women and children by limiting North Korea’s access to medicine and food.
Why Canada? Canada maintains strong diplomatic and economic ties with South Korea, with thousands of Canadians linked to Korea – north and south – by ties of family, friendship, commerce, education and culture. The United Church of Canada has a century-plus of connection and is engaged with Korean partners seeking peace in the peninsula, the reunion of the millions of families separated by the war, and respect for human rights and democratization.
Canada participated in the Korean War, and continues to be part of the United Nations Military Command in South Korea. Today, Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre of the Canadian Armed Forces is Deputy Commander of the UN forces in Korea, putting Canada at the centre of deliberations over the future of the Korean Peninsula.
2018 was a year of historic change on the peninsula. The threat of nuclear attack was eclipsed by the prospect of finally ending the 70-year Korean War. Former enemies met for talks about peace, prosperity and the unification of the peninsula. The reduction of tensions, first through the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, then various summit meetings and historic talks between North Korea’s Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, reflect the determination of Koreans to move from hostility and separation towards peace and security.
It’s time for Canada to re-activate bilateral relations with Pyongyang. If we want peace, we need to help make it happen.
Canada has no sticks, and only a limited number of relatively small carrots. We believe in engagement, not confrontation; in dialogue, not diatribe. When Canada established diplomatic relations with North Korea in 2001, it was in order to assist our long-time ally, South Korea, in moving toward peace on the Korean peninsula. We did so by engaging directly with the North Korea.
Last year, Canada showed signs that it was seeking to re-establish its credibility and expertise on North Korean issues. In January 2018, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland co-hosted the Vancouver Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on Security and Stability on Korean Peninsula. Yet, Canada continues to give full and vocal support to the American approach of “maximum pressure” and international sanctions against North Korea – the well-known and failed tactic of all sticks and no carrots.
It is time for Canada to support “maximum engagement.” Of course, Canada should maintain its commitments to human rights and to an international system based on rules, but at the same time Canada should re-establish direct communications and re-build official relationships with North Korea.
Canada has made a commitment to the global women, peace and security priority reflected in United Nations resolution 1325. Canada must ensure that women have a place at the Korea peace negotiations’ table, because we know that when women are included in peace processes, not only is agreement more likely, it is far more durable. We can support Canadian humanitarian involvement in child and maternal health and food security. On the diplomatic front, we can demonstrate our commitment to dialogue by allowing Canada’s ambassador to Seoul to seek cross-accreditation in Pyongyang. We should also be prepared to accept the credentials of a North Korea’s nominee for ambassador to Canada, and allow a North Korean Embassy to be established in Ottawa, should North Korea want one.
Canadian engagement on both sides of the divided Korean Peninsula offers an opportunity to reduce militarization in northeast Asia, support genuine human security in the region and reassert Canadian regional and global interests.
It is time to re-imagine Canada’s relationship with the Koreas. Canada should be present and engaged. In Seoul and Pyongyang.