Ambassador’s Corner: Republic of Korea

The ancient Paldamun Gate is a major historical attraction in Suwon, South Korea.

In the first of our new series, Ambassador’s Corner, writer Elizabeth McIninch sat down with Keung Ryong Chang, South Korea’s Ambassador to Canada to discuss his country, Canada’s relationship with the Republic of Korea, and the opportunities to be explored between Korea, Canada, and Saskatchewan.

Ambassador Keung Ryong Chang, Republic of Korea.

Meet Ambassador Keung Ryong Chang and the Republic of Korea.

After a lengthy, distinguished academic career, Ambassador Chang served as Chairman of the International Cooperation Standing Committee for the 19th National Unification Advisory Council in Korea. The winner of many awards, including the prestigious Korean Presidential Citation (2001), he was summoned to serve as Ambassador to Canada in June 2022.

“Korea is now ranked at No. 8 among the top trading countries of the world and in spite of the global toll taken by the pandemic Korea’s GDP increased by 4 per cent in 2021, the fastest recovery amongst the G-20 economies. But the country’s ancient Confucian values such as loyalty and service, both in personal lives and business still anchor daily life in this nation of 52 million and while centuries old traditions, as expressed in music, dance, and architecture thrive, Korea has become internationally renowned for its sensational K-pop artists such as BTS and an Academy Award winning film industry second to none.”

Q: Many Canadians fought bravely to support freedom and democracy in Korea. Can you give us your thoughts on the eve of the 70th anniversary of the historic armistice of 1953?

A: “I recall the devastation in the aftermath of the Korean War as a small boy born in the same year as the Armistice. The war was a great tragedy for our peninsula and began in 1950 when 75,000 soldiers from the North Korean People’s Army attacked across the 38th parallel in what has been widely regarded as the opening chapter of the Cold War. My countrymen resisted fiercely and held the Soviet backed forces of North Korea to a standstill along with the support of the United States and important UN allies, such as Canada. But as the war raged on for three years, over five million military personnel and civilians lost their lives.

Famous Korean Admiral Yi Sun overlooks a beautifully designed cultural centre.

Over the last 70 years, my country has achieved great economic power, and at the same time, a successful democratic system of which I am very proud. On March 9 of this year Koreans experienced the most closely watched presidential election in our history, with 77 per cent of eligible voters casting their ballots and a peaceful transition assured. I believe very few other countries have been able to match these achievements. In 2023, we will celebrate the Armistice that has allowed my country to harvest the seeds of freedom. On behalf of the Korean people, I am honoured to express my deepest respect and gratitude to the Canadian veterans of the Korean war. Over 26,000 Canadians answered the call to duty and their sacrifice gave my people the liberty to build our democracy over the ensuing decades. The Korean people will always remember and cherish the sacrifice of the 516 Canadians and 46 brave souls from Saskatchewan who lost their lives so our people could be free.”

Q: I have read that the Korean economy expanded by four per cent in 2021 which is the fastest recovery among the G20 nations. Can you comments on the trade figures as of 2021?

A: “Yes, I am proud to say that total trade reached a record $1,259.6 billion US and that included exports of $644.5 billion US which rose significantly by 25 per cent and imports which increased by 31.5 per cent to $615.1 billion compared to the previous year. This ranks Korea at No 8 with regards to other world economies, ultimately strengthening Korea’s position as one of the top trading companies of the world.”

Q: Ambassador Chang, of the many industries in which Korea excels, I believe it can be that in the field of electronic goods and semi-conductors, your country is unparalleled. The recent agreement between SaskTel and the South Korean conglomerate, Samsung Electronics Co. is great news for our province. Your thoughts?

Seoul’s exciting nightlife is world-renowned.

A: “As you know, Samsung, in cooperation with SaskTel, opened its office in Regina, in December of 2021 and is now deploying the foundations of its 5G network, which, when successfully established, will lead to a new industrial ecosystem for your province. As we know, the benefits of the 5G, such as hyper fast download speeds and improved connectivity, along with the powering up of advanced solutions for virtual health and the many new applications for mining and agriculture, are only a few examples of the whole new world of advanced solutions Samsung can bring to Saskatchewan’s burgeoning technology sector. Needless to say, I believe this remarkable partnership will lead to many others in the near future.”

Q: Korea’s imports of canola oil and seed and durum wheat from Saskatchewan have increased dramatically over the past few years. Can you tell us how you see the future for Saskatchewan agriculture in your country?

A: “Yes, allow me to provide some context. In 2021, Saskatchewan’s total exports to Korea reached $205 million, of which agriculture accounted for 94 per cent. Due to the establishment of the Canada-Korea Free Trade Agreement in 2015 Saskatchewan’s agricultural exports to Korea have more than doubled from 2014 ($83 million) to 2021 ($193 million). Korea had imposed a 50 per cent tariff on canola oil and 185 per cent tariff on grains, such as durum wheat, before the establishment of the FTA between the two countries.

Once the FTA came into force in 2015, the existing tariffs on canola oil and wheat were eliminated, which has contributed very positively to Saskatchewan’s sizeable exports of canola and wheat. Given that Korea imports enormous amounts of natural resources and raw materials in order to produce processed products, I anticipate Saskatchewan’s exports of meat and wheat to Korea will continue to increase exponentially. So too will the overwhelming favourites amongst our consumers and I speak here of organic products, specialty grains—and now that Koreans have become even more so than before loving pet owners—the best in pet foods!

I would like to remind your readers that Korea’s sustainable and closed-loop farming systems, which maximize the use of on-farm resources and recycles farm waste—while at the same time minimizing external inputs—have been used throughout Asia for many years. I am very proud of Korea’s success in sustainable farming and believe that my country can learn a great deal from Saskatchewan’s world class agricultural technology.”

Q: What are the principal Korean exports to Saskatchewan, Mr. Ambassador?

A: “ In 2021, Korea’s total exports to Saskatchewan reached $38 million, which comprises mainly capital goods comprising $6 million of mechanical shovels and excavators, $3.4 million of Wire-Iron/Non-Alloy Steel, $2.1 million of Lithium–Ion and $1.7 million of Line Pipe for oil and gas.”

Q: Would you have words of advice for Canadians wishing to do business or invest in Korea?

Hanok, the lovely traditional form of Korean housing.

A: “Korea is the first Asian country that signed an FTA with Canada. Our two countries have considerable experience in working together as partners, both in terms of bilateral trade and, in terms of cooperation throughout south-east Asia at large. For businesspeople looking to invest and form partnerships in my country—or to benefit from and expand in international markets, Korea is a rewarding, dynamic and stable country to take that first

I believe it is important to stress as well that Korea ranked 5th out of 189 countries in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business 2019 report.

It is often forgotten that small and medium sized companies account for 88 per cent of employment in Korea. They are provided with a range of government supports—which is of great importance to the national economy. To be able to enter the Korean market successfully, it is advisable for Canadian companies to partner with Korea’s small and medium sized businesses with the ultimate aim of enhancing status in online marketplaces. I might add that the e-commerce market is very advanced in my country and has grown substantially throughout the pandemic.

In the difficult world in which we live, I hope all our future partners and investors in Saskatchewan—and Canada at large—understand that in my country, the traditional Confucian values of loyalty and service are very strong. I am proud to say that these values apply not only in the realm of families and communities, but to doing business in Korea as well.”

Q: I notice that Saskatchewan Polytechnic and Taegu Science University are renewing their rewarding partnership in health sciences this year.

A: “Yes, and I am delighted that the 2019 partnership is being renewed and I anticipate even more important developments in the years to come in health sciences and perhaps other disciplines as well.

In the meantime, I look forward to continued collaboration with Taegu Science University, to create significant opportunities in the areas of curriculum development, joint research, and faculty and student exchanges. The Korean embassy will also be providing whatever supports they need.”

Q: Next year is the 60th anniversary of our bilateral relationship. What are your predictions for our future relations in people-to-people exchanges?

A: “Canada and Korea have enjoyed very strong people-to-people exchanges. In 2019, before COVID-19, more than 400,000 people travelled between our two countries for travel, study and work. Of course, that number diminished due to the impact of COVID-19. However, now that restrictions are beginning to ease, and given our continuously strengthened bilateral relations, I expect that our P2P exchanges will soon recover to pre-pandemic levels.

Personally, I can attest to the change in Canadians’ perceptions of Korea—especially compared to 30 years ago, when I first studied here. Back then, Korea was easily mistaken for other neighbouring countries—many Canadians did not know where Korea was located geographically.

However, things have changed immensely, and Canadians now love Korea. There could be various reasons for that, such as the emergence of the K-Wave, our buoyant artistic and foodie culture, both old and new—or the general economic growth of Korea as a whole. One thing I am sure of is that this growing affection among Canadians toward Korea will continue to serve as a solid foundation in bolstering our mutual cooperation and strengthening our P2P exchanges.”