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Canada’s 22nd Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Stephen J. Harper, was in South Korean on this date in 2009. He made history on his visit in becoming the first-ever Canadian PM to address South Korea’s national assembly. In his address, Harper recalled Canada’s proud service in the cause of freedom during the Korean War.

“Canada and Korea have been staunch allies in the defence of freedom and democracy ever since,” he said.  “We are not a warlike people, but when the cause has been just and necessary, Canadians have always answered the call.  There is no doubt the cause of Korean freedom was just and necessary.  And, the truth of the ideals for which we fought has been revealed beyond a shadow of a doubt as this Republic has flourished, while the Communist North has floundered.”

You can read more of Prime Minister Harper’s historic address below.

Prime Minister Stephen J. Harper: I am deeply honoured to be the first Canadian Prime Minister to address the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea.  This visit is indeed a historic opportunity to celebrate the deep friendship between Canada and Korea, a camaraderie rooted in our shared experiences and our common acceptance of enduring principles.

In the year to come, however, it will be about much more than our history.  Because, as we are renewing the strong relations between our nations, we are also planning for the leadership role that Canada and Korea will play as hosts of the G20 Summits that will take place next year.

Frankly, it would be hard to overstate the importance of this work.  The world is struggling to emerge from the worst recession in half a century.  Economies are showing signs of stabilization, but this recovery is fragile.  It is a recovery that wrong choices could quickly stall, or even reverse.  The livelihoods of families all over the world hang in the balance.

Coming out of Pittsburgh, the world agreed that the G20 will serve as the world’s pre-eminent forum for economic cooperation.  It is this group that has worked together to minimize the effects of global recession.  The decisions coming from this group of nations – responsible for 85 per cent of the world’s GDP – are therefore of enormous consequence.

For Canada and Korea, this is a unique opportunity, and a unique responsibility.  We must lead the way.  We must build upon the work done in Washington, London and Pittsburgh.  We must continue to focus attention on the global economy and ensure a balanced and sustainable recovery.  Our work to achieve effective economic stimulus, prudent regulation of the global financial sector, reform of international financial institutions and open and expanding global trade must not waver.  We must follow through on the commitments we have made.  And we must avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.

And together, as President Lee and I co-chair the next round of discussions on these matters, we must draw from leaders a credible plan for exiting the nations of the world from the extraordinary measures of the past year and returning the global economy to a path of sustainable growth as the recovery takes hold.

In passing, I would observe that a failure to achieve this objective would have consequences beyond the purely economic:  without the wealth that comes from growth, the environmental threats, the developmental challenges and the peace and security issues facing the world will be exponentially more difficult to deal with.

My government and I look forward to continuing our close cooperation with our Korean colleagues as we prepare for the momentous year before us.  Happily, our own two countries are well-positioned to meet the challenges facing the G20, and to improve our bilateral cooperation at the same time.

We are ideal partners.  Let us speak of the Korean miracle, the roots of an old and true friendship, and what Canada and Korea have to offer one another.

Ladies and gentlemen, esteemed members, we stand in awe of what Korea has accomplished in less than six decades.  During the last month, I have visited India, China and Singapore.  All these countries have achieved extraordinary economic and social progress in the post-war era.  Still, few have come farther than Korea.

Starting with a country devastated by decades of occupation and then shattered and divided by war, you have emerged as the world’s 15th largest economy, a technological and manufacturing powerhouse, a full-fledged partner in the great councils of the world, an important contributor to international security and prosperity and a positive example for the developing nations of the 21st century.

Your exceptional success has been called the Miracle on the Han River.  But it is no miracle.  It’s due to the resilience, determination and ingenuity of the Korean people, and the intrinsic worth of the high principles you have embraced.  Freedom.  Democracy.  Free Trade.  Open Markets.

Today, as a result, Korea is one of the most internationally engaged of all Asian nations.  One measure of this is Korea’s chairmanship of the G20 in 2010.  As President Lee has said, you aspire to be, and I quote, “a global Korea.”

I spoke of old friendships, and shared values.  They go back a long way, to when Canadian missionaries and educators were first drawn to this country, in the late nineteenth century.  Visionaries such as James Scarth Gale. He opened the way to better understanding by assembling the first English-Korean dictionary, and producing the first translation of the Bible into the Korean language.

He was followed by pioneering physician and educator, Oliver Avison, one of the founders of Severance Hospital and Yonsei University.  And, of course, there’s the great Dr. Frank Schofield.  He went to Korea as a veterinary biologist.  He became a powerful voice for freedom, democracy and human rights in Korea during the Japanese occupation.  Indeed, he took up the cause of Korean independence with such passion that he is the only Westerner buried in the patriot’s section of your national cemetery. I will be paying my respects at his grave, later today.

But our most intense shared experiences began nearly 60 years ago, in what we call the Korean War, and you term the 6-2-5 War.  The same brutal totalitarianism that imprisoned Eastern Europe behind the Iron Curtain plunged your own country into another devastating war.  Koreans were pitted against each other.

Only the courage of the government and people of the free Republic of Korea, backed by the United Nations force of which Canada was a part, saved the entire Korean peninsula from enslavement.  Close to 27,000 Canadians served in the conflict; More than 500 were killed.  And to this day, the Battle of Kap’yong to save Seoul is remembered in Canada as one of the most illustrious moments of our military history.

Canada and Korea have been staunch allies in the defence of freedom and democracy ever since.  We are not a warlike people, but when the cause has been just and necessary, Canadians have always answered the call.  There is no doubt the cause of Korean freedom was just and necessary.  And, the truth of the ideals for which we fought has been revealed beyond a shadow of a doubt as this Republic has flourished, while the Communist North has floundered.

Your success as a nation serves as the greatest tribute you can show to the Canadians who fought and died here, and to the development assistance that Canadians contributed to Korean recovery and reconstruction.  Which brings us to today.

In the decades since the War, Canada and Korea have grown ever closer.  Tens of thousands of Koreans have immigrated to our country, found economic opportunity, and made enormous contributions to the communities they have joined.  The estimated 200,000 Canadians of Korean descent tend to be highly educated, thriving in management and entrepreneurship …

Meanwhile, tourist traffic between our countries is booming in both directions, as is the tradition of educational exchange.  There are about 30,000 Koreans pursuing full time studies in Canada, and roughly 10,000 Canadians now live in Korea, the vast majority teaching English as a second language.

Esteemed Members, ladies and gentlemen, my visit here reflects Canada’s growing engagement with the nations of the Asia-Pacific.  As economic power and human prosperity spread from West to East through globalization, Canada is strategically positioned to straddle both hemispheres.  Our economy was built in the 19th and early 20th centuries largely on trans-Atlantic trade.  But it is clear that in the 21st century, trans-Pacific trade will increasingly fuel our economic growth.

As these trends continue, it is also clear that Korea should be one of Canada’s most important partners in the region.  Canada has the energy and minerals Korea needs to fuel future growth.  Korea has a genius for manufacturing.  Canada has a world-class financial services sector.  Korean industry needs access to capital.  And let’s not forget Canada’s Asia-Pacific Gateway ports are closer by days in connecting the main markets of North America and Asia than those further south.

Ship to Vancouver.  Ship to Prince Rupert.  Canada is open for business.

Frankly, it would be hard to find two countries better suited to each other as trading partners.  Which suggests there is more, much more, that we could do together.  No doubt there are particular obstacles.  But our job, as democratically-elected national legislators, is to consider the bigger picture, to also represent the broader interests of all our people.

It is for all these reasons – our natural trade advantages, our commitment to economic principles that work and our old and true friendship – that we should expand our horizons.  We can be the model for bringing the economies of the East and the West together.  In other words, we can lead in the quest for a more balanced world, a more equitable world, and a more prosperous world for all.  When would be a better time?

The invisible hand of the marketplace is already pointing the direction we need to go.  Your energy sector is investing in our oil sands.  Our combined know-how in carbon capture and storage technology is reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.  Your electronics manufacturers have millions of Canadian customers.  Our agricultural producers are providing Koreans with safe, high-quality food.  And, thanks to our Blue Sky Agreement, Korean and Canadian airlines have new flexibility to offer more services and conveniences to travelers and shippers.

With all these economic ties, it only makes sense that our two countries work to conclude our free trade negotiations so we can grow our mutual trade and investment for the future.

Ladies and gentlemen, when the global economy is ready for another round of growth, we owe it to ourselves to be ready to take advantage of it.  In preparation for that day, let us join hands in an historic year of G20 leadership and move forward.  I have great confidence that 2010 is going to be the year that Canada and Korea achieve unprecedented levels of co-operation and friendship.

We are already allies in the United Nations mission to secure and rebuild Afghanistan, and in the larger struggle against international terrorism.  We will also continue to stand together against the anachronistic dictatorship in the North.  Canadians have great compassion for the people of North Korea, and we are eager to see the day of their freedom and their reunion with their brothers and sisters of the South.

In conclusion, I look forward to welcoming President Lee to Canada for our G20 Summit in Toronto next June.  And I further look forward to returning to Korea a year from now for the G20 meeting here.  Finally, we look forward to hosting all of you at the Vancouver and Whistler Winter Olympics.  With the Games less than three months away, excitement is building across Canada and around the world.  We Canadians are feeling very positive about our medal prospects, but we know we’re going to face tough competition from Korea’s team – especially your outstanding speed skaters and your women’s figure skating champion, Kim Yu-Na, whom we know very well because she trains in Toronto.

We all have much to look forward to.  We must just remember that much is expected from those whom fortune and a generous providence have endowed.  We – our countries – have important work to do.  Thank you once again for the opportunity to address your National Assembly.

Arthur Milnes is an accomplished public historian and award-winning journalist.  He was research assistant on The Rt. Hon. Brian Mulroney’s best-selling Memoirs and also served as a speechwriter to then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper and as a Fellow of the Queen’s Centre for the Study of Democracy under the leadership of Tom Axworthy.  A resident of Kingston, Ontario, Milnes serves as the in-house historian at the 175 year-old Frontenac Club Hotel.
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