Canada and South Korea have agreed to co-operate on supply chains for critical minerals needed for electric vehicles as both countries work to strengthen their economic ties and reduce their dependence on China.
"We recognize — both of us — that China is an important economic partner, not just in the region but around the world," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday in Seoul at a joint news conference with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol.
"But we need to be clear-eyed about where we co-operate with China," Trudeau added, noting that Canada co-hosted a United Nations summit on biodiversity in Montreal last year.
"We need to know where we're going to be competing with China on economic grounds and where we need to challenge China on human rights and other issues," he said.
"It's something that we will both be continuing to do in ways that make sense for our own countries and our own situations."
During Trudeau's first official trip to South Korea, he signed a memorandum of understanding on critical minerals, the clean energy transition and energy security, which he said will mean more investment and trade for Canada.
The Prime Minister's Office said that both countries can play a "leading role" as "reliable partners" when it comes to the supply chain for electric vehicles and the critical minerals needed to make their batteries.
Trudeau's visit to South Korea follows on commitments from both countries to strengthen economic and military ties to counterbalance the influence of China.
Both countries have released Indo-Pacific strategies within the past year, which provide road maps for strengthening military and economic relationships in the region to counterbalance the influence of Beijing.
The agreement on critical mineral supply chains comes as Canada's federal government is in a dispute with automaker Stellantis, which has halted construction on an electric-vehicle battery plant in Windsor, Ont., in partnership with South Korean battery-maker, LG Energy Solution.
The companies jointly wrote to Trudeau last month after Volkswagen announced it had secured a deal to set up a battery plant in St. Thomas, Ont. That deal had Canada offering a $700-million capital contribution and $8 billion to $13 billion in production subsidies to match what Volkswagen would get in production tax credits under the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act.
The federal government has said it is negotiating with Stellantis, but wants Ontario to contribute a bigger share of the money than the $500 million in capital costs it has put on the table.
Trudeau had little to add when asked about Stellantis in Seoul.
"Canada has been successfully delivering great jobs for the middle-class across the country through investments by partners from around the world. We will continue to do that," he said.
The visit also produced a renewed arrangement on youth mobility, with an annual quota of 12,000 people.
"We welcome thousands of Korean students to our universities every year and now, we want to do even more," said Trudeau, adding it will create new opportunities for youth to work in both countries.
Canada and South Korea also committed to working together to advance human rights in North Korea, where Trudeau said the federal government will continue to support human rights organizations.
"We continue to deplore the regular military activities including nuclear missile tests by North Korea, that destabilize not just the region but threatens the security of the entire world," Trudeau said.
He highlighted what Canada is doing to enforce maritime sanctions against North Korea through Operation Neon.
The growing threat of authoritarianism around the world was a theme in Trudeau's address to the South Korean National Assembly earlier Wednesday.
He said "antagonistic countries" are taking advantage of economic interdependence to their own geopolitical advantage.
He said the "world is facing a moment of uncertainty" as countries recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, while economic anxiety and climate change add stress to people's lives.
He argued Canada and South Korea can be partners in addressing climate change, which he says is also a way to safeguard against geopolitical instability and build more resilient economies.