Canada planning ‘ambitious’ fight against violent extremism, Seoul official says

OTTAWA, Ontario — Canada will make “ambitious” efforts in the fight against violent extremism when it welcomes South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha for a three-day visit next week, a top South Korean official said Thursday.

Kang, the first South Korean foreign minister to visit Canada, will be in Ottawa on Monday, the last stop of a world tour meant to capitalize on recent breakthroughs between Canada and its former Cold War foe.

In recent months, Seoul and Ottawa have raised expectations of an expanded partnership with the goal of greater military co-operation and more humanitarian aid.

It comes as Kim Jong Un prepares to meet President Donald Trump in late May or early June, after a sequence of inconclusive summits with former U.S. presidents.

Kang’s visit to Canada comes on the heels of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s comments during a visit to South Korea last month that Canada was prepared to offer more aid to assist the North’s humanitarian and food programs.

Then, Trudeau announced that Canada would commit $20 million over two years to the joint Pak-Indo-Canadian International Health Research Program, which invests in efforts to fight infectious diseases.

Several government officials declined to comment on when or how Ottawa might deliver on Trudeau’s promise of greater humanitarian assistance, but Canada’s participation in a World Health Organization mission to help supply food to the North has been noted in recent months.

As part of its larger multi-tier approach to North Korea, the Trudeau government has increased its diplomatic presence in Pyongyang. Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland is expected to travel to North Korea for another round of talks this summer.

Before leaving for Canada on Thursday, Kang stopped in Washington to meet with Brett McGurk, U.S. envoy to the international coalition fighting the Islamic State, to discuss shared threats.

She is scheduled to address the “special relationship” between the U.S. and Canada, according to a schedule posted by the Korean Foreign Ministry.

Kang will also attend a think tank luncheon on Monday and meet with Canadian parliamentarians. Later that day, she will address a reception at the Korean Embassy, according to a schedule posted by the embassy.

The high-level diplomatic trip is all part of South Korea’s effort to “dramatically” improve ties with Canada, which were strained for a brief period of time in the late 1990s, said Young Ho Jae, a spokesman for the South Korean Foreign Ministry.

In South Korea, Kang will speak to Canada’s Parliament on Thursday, delivering a speech to the United Nations General Assembly on global stability next month. She will also address the Mexican and Norwegian parliaments and have several opportunities to meet Canadians.

“She is looking forward to a successful and productive trip,” Young Ho Jae said.

Canada and South Korea have worked together more closely in recent years, partly due to their shared concern about North Korea, as their two presidents warm to Kim Jong Un.

South Korea has recently relaxed travel restrictions for North Koreans and allowed the North’s national artistic groups to visit the South, more rapidly than in previous years.

Kang’s tour to Canada comes after a powerful typhoon flattened parts of South Korea last week, leaving dozens dead and more than 200,000 homes destroyed.

Because of a delayed emergency response, many refugees are likely to stay in North Korea. The South’s new government, however, has promised to improve the humanitarian situation and work with the North to help rebuild after the storm.

Members of the Canadian parliament are likely to be briefed on the visit in Seoul, according to Young Ho Jae.

However, the South Korean government has remained mostly silent about Kang’s meetings, citing state security rules. She was granted permission to visit the North in 2014.

Asked for comment on the proposed visit, a spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland wrote in an email that he “does not have specifics to share” on Kang’s discussions.

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