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S. Harper: Address to World Summit

Address to World Summit 2019, Seoul, Korea, February 7–11, 2019


Thank you for that kind introduction. and thank you to the Universal Peace Federation for inviting me here today. Thank you for inviting me to be part of your important work, and thank you for inviting me to this wonderful country. During my decade as prime minister of Canada, some of my most memorable moments occurred in Korea. I came to the South for various international summits as well as for an important bilateral visit in 2014. That visit witnessed the conclusion of the free trade agreement between Canada and the Republic of Korea, something that takes our long-positive relationship to a new stage. I also, at one point, visited the Demilitarized Zone, where I was famously photographed on the border with a North Korean soldier peering threateningly over my shoulder.

That photograph symbolized Canada's relationship with the North during my term of office. In other words, it was a borderline relationship. We had suspended full diplomatic relations with the North and maintained only a controlled engagement policy. So we had little to do with North Korea other than occasionally dealing with Canadian citizens who had been detained or imprisoned there.

In our last years in office, however, North Korea was frequently the subject of government discussions. Specifically, we were examining whether Canada should join the U.S. ballistic missile defence program, something our predecessors had opted out of 15 years ago. This re-examination was obviously prompted by the ever-growing nuclear weapons program of the North.

I should also mention that one of my more peculiar mementos from my time in office is a Christmas card I received from the late Kim Jong-il. Members of Canada's Korean community advised me to verify, and not to trust, the authenticity of the signature on that Christmas card.

Today, however, I am here, in significant part, because of renewed efforts to bring a lasting peace between North and South. I know this has long been one of the objectives of the Universal Peace Federation. Let me commend you for that objective and for your mission. Broadly. it is critical in this day and age; it can often seem that we do have the desire for peace in our hearts. Through your efforts at mobilizing the "soft power" of civil society and encouraging peace-building through interfaith dialogue, the Universal Peace Federation makes an invaluable contribution. Thank you for that.

With that in mind, let me share several thoughts, including some advice, as you seek to advance the current peace process on the Korean Peninsula. My first piece of advice starts, I'm afraid to say, with the admonition that we do need to be as gentle as doves, but also as wise as serpents. In other words, we cannot merely wish peace with the North to happen out of goodwill but only through a realistic, tough, and patient process. And we have every right to be sceptical. Although Canada has not been a formal part of previous peace efforts, we have had a front-row seat watching our allies.

For me, there has been one unmistakable conclusion: The previous Korean peace processes—I think of the Sunshine Policy, the Six-Party talks—ended up simply being cover for the acceleration of North Korean weapons capabilities. Now, of course, that was under Kim II. Is Kim III any different? In truth, we don't know. In fact, I have to tell you that when iI saw our intelligence readings on Kim Jong-un, I was shocked by how little we actually knew about this guy, especially considering that he was, in part, Western educated. But we do know at least two things. From his governance so far, on the positive side, he shows some interest in economic reform, albeit moderate reform. This appears to have had some, marginal impact in North Korea. More ominously, however he has displayed an extreme personal capacity for violence.

Obviously, that is not reassuring. So, my second piece of advice is obvious. Judge the North by its actions, not its words. I hope and suspect that is the approach the U.S. administration and its allies are taking, but that is not entirely clear to me. To date, Kim Jong-un has undertaken some symbolic gestures and peripheral actions, but there has been no meaningful backing away from either North Korea's key weapon's programs or its fundamental hostility to human rights and peaceful co-existence.

Therefore, third, in this process the U.S. and its partners must bring hard-power assets to the table, both their own military and economic assets as well as their influence over the similar assets of allies and of global institutions, use these to convey both credible threats and promises, and be genuinely prepared to deploy them. I strongly suspect that such a tough and focused approach is the only way that progress can be achieved. I would note that this U.S. administration does seem to be attempting to do that, although whether it will exercise sustained discipline in the process is not clear.

Fourth, do not merely involve the Chinese. Hold them accountable. We need to be frank about the Chinese role in all of this. China may not fully control North Korea, but the regime and certainly, much of its behaviour would not be possible without a significant degree of Chinese support. China has not only been North Korea's historic military backstop; it has long been its economic lifeline. China may claim that it has no control over the DPRK's military activities or threats, but we can safely say that if such activities or threats were ever directed against China, they would be dealt with swiftly and forcefully, and the North Koreans know it. Likewise, the North Korean problem has long been a useful tool in China's strategic rivalry with the West, especially with the United States. So, China may not control North Korea like a puppet, but neither is it the innocent bystander it often pretends to be.

Fifth, I say, beware of any role played by the Putin regime in all of this. In my experience, that regime's international objective is to be, at almost all times, systematically unhelpful. Putin's Russia is, at heart, a global disruptor. Minimize its role, and when it acts as it does call it out.

Sixth, to my South Korean friends, stay close to your allies, especially the United States. Canadians know, as well as anyone, that the Americans can be frustrating, and certainly, this president has a particular capacity to be frustrating to allies. But without American commitment, leadership, and partnership, the resolution of major issues of peace and security, like this one, simply cannot be accomplished in the interests of free and democratic societies. This is probably more true for South Korea than for any other country in the world. I would also add that for South Korea, modern Japan should be viewed the same way. Now, I know how terrible the history is. And I know, from experience, how real are ongoing tensions. But I also know that the Republic of Korea and the state of Japan share vital, long-term interests and threats. This is what we must focus on.

Just as an aside many of you may remember that I led the charge for Russia's expulsion from the G-7. I did that prior to the invasion of Ukraine. And I did that because, under Putin, Russia simply does not share G-7 values and interests. In fact, it acts as a deliberate threat to them. Likewise, though, it was my view as prime minister that South Korea (and also Australia) should be admitted to the G-7. I hope someday that will happen. There could be no greater realization of the shared security, economic and democratic interests of South Korea, Japan, and other Western powers than to have South Korea join us at the G-7 table.

Let me just conclude with these thoughts. During my time as prime minister, I was electorally supported, very strongly supported in fact, by Canada's Korean community. That community really took shape after Canada's participation in the fight for freedom and democracy in the Korean War. The Korean community in Canada is well educated, well regarded, and very successful. So, it is no surprise to Canadians to see the success that the Republic of Korea has achieved since our shared sacrifice in that terrible war.

Indeed, this country is one of humanity's greatest success stories. Few nations have ever achieved so much in so short a time. From a repressed and brutally poor country after World War II, South Korea has become one of the wealthiest, most peaceful, and most progressive countries on earth. And I hold out a similar hope for the North. I have studied parts of Korean history, and I know that North Korea actually initially industrialized more quickly than the South in the early years of independence.

But North Korea's model became oriented to military, rather than economic, growth, and it was aimed at the creation of a controlled society rather than a free society. In a strange way, this was also a success, or, to put it better, successfully achieved. That is to say, the North Korean government pursuing its warped vision achieved in spades what it set out to do: become the most militarized, and the least free, society in the world, perhaps, in human history. So we can only imagine what great things, if they were given the chance and the right direction, that the people in North Korea are also capable of achieving. Let's hope that in the not too distant future they get that opportunity.

In the meantime, thank you for the work you have long been doing to turn such a possibility into a reality. I am, like you, anxious to do what I can to realize a better future for all the people of Korea.

Thank you again for the opportunity to address you here today. I look forward to our discussion. Merci beaucoup.



To go to the 2019 World Summit Schedule page, click here.