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A forward-looking discussion on the Canada-Korea relationship and women’s leadership in the international sphere

On October 13th, Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs visited Ewha for an intimate, closed-door discussion, followed by a 30-minute Q&A session where our GSIS students could ask questions that they felt were important regarding her work or the topics that were brought up. It was a very thought-provoking discussion that touched on a variety of exciting topics spanning from the Canada-Korea bilateral relationship, Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy in an evolving global context, and women’s role and leadership in politics, diplomacy and foreign affairs.

The lecture started with Dean Brendan Howe, from Ewha GSIS, providing an overview of Foreign Minister Joly’s milestones so far, as well as her areas of expertise, which range from women’s peace, international relations, cross-cultural communication, and business among others. The talk came at a time when both Korea and Canada, in the context of their Comprehensive Strategic partnership, will release their Indo-Pacific strategies where deeper cooperation between both countries in many common interest areas is expected.

Foreign Minister Joly was thrilled to be back in Korea after her last visit back in 2018 when she was the Heritage Minister of Canada, where she came to get to know more about the cultural powerhouse that Korea has become ever since the spread of Korean pop culture all over the world. 

During the talk, she expressed her concerns with the growing tensions both internationally, and in the Asia-pacific region – especially with the DPRK missile launches a few days prior to the talk, as well as the escalating tensions in the Taiwan Strait, and the South China Sea. In light of this context, she stressed the urgency for countries like Canada, Korea, and Japan, along with other countries, to work together. 

When it comes to further cooperation with Korea, both countries are working hard to increase trade and investment with each other, with Canada planning on exporting energy to Korea by 2025. When it comes to economic cooperation, AI and innovation are other key areas Canada wants to work with Korea. In the security area, Foreign Minister Joly stressed that Canada wants to play a bigger role since the future will take place in the Indo-Pacific region, and Canada has to take a more active role in the region to ensure security, hence why there have been efforts to further deepen cooperation with like-minded countries like Korea.

During the discussion with Dean Howe, Foreign Minister Joly pointed out that while security is still a key part of Canada’s foreign policy, times have changed and now it strives to bring stability. Canada’s role as a middle power is to ensure both big and small countries abide by the rules equally. 

Canada as a middle power, is also a diplomatic powerhouse, so in this sense, it has the ability to bring countries together. The purpose of her travels in Asia was to assert how can Canada reach out to other Asian countries such as Korea, Japan, and even ASEAN countries to work together in terms of security, especially when it comes to facing a growing assertive China, as well as the actions of the DPRK. Still, she remarked it is important to work with China, especially when it comes to issues like climate change since there is a significant amount of waste being thrown into the East Sea that urgently needs to be addressed. 


After a discussion with Dean Howe, the floor was open to GSIS students, who were eager to ask several questions, and know more in-depth about what the job of a foreign minister entails.

What are Canada’s considerations in taking a more non-western perspective to deal with Asia?

For a long time, Canada was not seen as a reliable partner by Asian countries, because Canada was not always there. A change of mindset is a must in Canada’s Indo-Pacific strategy moving forward, as well as ensuring Canada is much more invested in the region. The relationship between two countries is important, and it is also important to have plans with the government of the country, but fundamentally, if there is no business between the countries, if there is no investment, if there are no conversations with the people, then this strategy does not follow through. We also want to include more indigenous people’s perspectives in our country’s foreign policy, and this is particularly important, especially if we want more involvement in the Asia-Pacific region.

Canada is very big on gender rights and gender aid, as well as having a feminist foreign policy. What else is Canada doing, particularly in terms of gender aid?

Indeed, we have a feminist foreign policy and it is deployed in different ways – for instance in the case of Indonesia, Canada supports shelters that deal with issues of gender-based violence, and that is one of the things we do in different countries. On the other hand, when we look at defence investments, Canada values women’s leadership in the fields of security and the military, and makes sure women are not only seen as victims in times of conflict, but rather make sure they are change-makers, they are leaders, and that they are not only passive voices. We work on the ground to make sure women’s lives are protected. 

This feminist foreign policy is something Canada really worked on, and after Sweden and Canada, many other countries got on board. So feminist foreign policy, again, is about international aid, is about helping women entrepreneurs in trade, and is also about women, peace and security. 


Foreign Minister Joly was delighted to see so many women in the room interested in politics and hopes she can have Ewha GSIS students as her counterparts at some point. She stressed the importance of empowering women in academic settings – to let them know that they have everything in them to make their dreams come true, that they have allies in the world and that, in this case, Canada, is there to show them different women role models to prove younger women leaders that their dream is feasible. 

While she acknowledged that she was fortunate enough to be raised in a country where there has been quite a bit of progress when it comes to women’s rights, she believes there is still much more to be done, which is why it is important to keep pushing and advocating for women’s rights and to get women to reach higher education so they can become leaders of their fields of expertise.


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