A Canadian Diplomatic Model?



In a post last week updating the case of Canadian Pastor Hyeon Soo Lim, we stated that “Canada does not have full diplomatic relations with the DPRK.” One reader noted that Canada in fact continues to have diplomatic relations, although non-resident ones; Canada’s interests are managed through Seoul (as are those of about 15 other countries; another 30 are handled through Beijing and several through Tokyo). But another reader noted that “although diplomatic relations between Canada and DPRK were established in February 2001, they were suspended on May 25th, 2010 in response to the Cheonan investigation.” The language of “suspension” was in fact used in the CBC report we cited in the post, although at a later date in the fall.

What’s going on? The answer is interesting and suggests that while the choice of recognition may be binary, there are many alternatives to full diplomatic relations.

A government website on Canada’s bilateral relations explains that the country recognized North Korea and established diplomatic relations in 2001. The now defunct CANKOR provided a collection of documents surrounding the normalization. But Ottawa then imposed increased restrictions on the relationship in the wake of the sinking of the Cheonan. (Three Canadians participated in the multinational investigation; they concluded the vessel was sunk by a torpedo).

In October 2010, the government adopted a “Controlled Engagement Policy” under which official bilateral contact was limited to communication on specific topics: (1) regional security concerns; (2) the human rights and humanitarian situation in North Korea; (3) inter-Korean relations; and (4) consular issues. All government-to-government cooperation and communication not on the list was suspended; conspicuously missing were commercial relations. Canada imposed sanctions in connection with the Cheonan in 2010 and in August 2011 adopted wider economic restrictions under the Special Economic Measures Act (DPRK). These sanctions were in addition to those passed imposed under UNSC resolutions. The government site states that “the Special Economic Measures (DPRK) Regulations were enacted to reinforce the message to the North Korean government that its aggressive actions are unacceptable to Canada.” The sanctions included a ban on all imports and exports, with certain humanitarian exemptions. (see Canadian Economic Sanctions – Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.)

Pyongyang does not care for dual accredited ambassadors in Seoul, and has made it difficult for ambassadors there to get their credentials accepted. North Korea's Permanent Representative to the UN in New York is now responsible for relations with Canada. But currently, neither one is accredited to the other country. Canada’s consular interests in North Korea are protected by Sweden under a protected powers agreement. North Korean consular interests in Canada are protected by Cuba.

Like the United States, Canada maintains a strong travel advisory. But the government has allowed private initatives to proceed; Jessica Dorfmann provides an update on Kyung-ae Park's academic diplomacy out of the University of British Columbia, for example. And of course the work of Pastor Hyeon Soo Lim suggests the work that the churches are doing.

So, does Canada have diplomatic relations with North Korea or not? We are happily corrected, but it looks like the answer is not straightforward. Canada’s policy makes a broader point. Countries currently maintaining diplomatic relations can calibrate those relations, not only through sanctions but by the diplomatic connections they maintain.

Other posts tagged “Canada” can be found here.

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