Blood Brothers, or Worlds Apart?

Canadian Ambassador to North and South Korea Ted Lipman speaking in Seoul on Feb. 23, 2010. (Asia Society Korea Center)
Canadian Ambassador to North and South Korea Ted Lipman speaking in Seoul on Feb. 23, 2010. (Asia Society Korea Center)

SEOUL, February 23, 2010 - Canada's Ambassador to both North and South Korea, H.E. Ted Lipman, gave a talk to the Asia Society Korea Center titled "Blood Brothers, or Worlds Apart?,"  in which he discussed Canada's relationship with the two Koreas. Based in Seoul for the last two and a half years, Lipman has made more than half a dozen trips to North Korea. In his address, delivered before a full luncheon audience of approximately 100 people, the Ambassador noted the similarities as well as the more obvious differences between Canada's dealings with each half of the Korean Peninsula.

Early on, Lipman recounted his comical first encounter with North Koreans when he was studying in China at the end of the Cultural Revolution. The North Koreans wanted him to teach them to speak English, so he did so with a Jimmy Carter accent.

Later, when Lipman worked at the Canadian Embassy in Beijing, he received a visit from a North Korean official who during the meeting read out a statement denouncing South Korea's Sunshine Policy (which promoted reconcilation and expanded contact between the two countries). Shortly afterwards, in 2000, Canada and other Western countries normalized relations with the North. At the time, Canada was optimistic that there could be progress in North-South relations.

After serving in Beijing and Taipei, Lipman returned to Ottawa, where he was involved at a senior level in relations with North and South Korea. It was at this time that he became closer to the Republic of Korea.

Lipman pointed out that both Canada and the Republic of Korea are "middle powers," punching above their weight class, with many convergences of interests in diplomatic and business arenas. One area of difference he mentioned was that Ottawa would like Seoul to support its position regarding Iran's human rights abuses.

Turning to North Korea, Lipman said that it has little in common with Canada save the weather. He reminded his listeners that the first Canadians in Korea went to the north as missionaries, and that 27,000 troops served here during the Korean War. While pointing to monetary aid and people-to-people exchanges that have occurred between North Korea and Canada, the Ambassador stressed that denuclearization is the key to opening the doors to significant aid, development, trade, and further relations.

Towards the end of his address, Ambassador Lipman turned to some similarities and differences between the two Koreas. As an example of the former, he said both nations seem to view national existence through the lens of self-sufficiency, and this can downplay any outside cooperation or assistance in their development. With regard to the countries' differences, meanwhile, Lipman sees Seoul as trying to embrace globalization (though not without "teething problems"), while Kim Jong Il fears and loathes globalization because it threatens his rule.

At the conclusion of his address, the Ambassador again stressed the importance of sequencing—in his words, "the right steps in the right order"—for making any progress in North-South and also North-world relations, and also the necessity of having realistic expectations. This was followed by many questions from the audience, particularly about the current reality in, and future prognostications for, North Korea.


Asia Society luncheon lectures are held once a month at the Lotte Hotel Seoul. For more information, write to