When Joseph Caron was 21, he sewed a Canadian flag on his backpack and headed abroad looking for adventure.
After nearly 40 years in Canada’s Foreign Service—where he served as Canada’s top diplomat to Asia – it is fair to say Caron found adventure in spades.
Through major global events like the SARS outbreak, Caron has helped to manage Canada’s complex relationship with Asia, where he served as ambassador to seven countries, including China, India, Japan and North Korea during his career.
In July, he joined UBC’s Institute of Asian Research (IAR) after retiring from the Foreign Service. As a leading expert on Canada-Asia relations and international affairs, Caron now shares his expertise with students and researchers as an honorary professor.
Few Canadians have witnessed the rise of China, India, Japan and Korea as closely as Caron. The emergence of Asia furthers the globe’s continuing evolution into “multi-polar world” of new and traditional powers, he says.
“America and Europe will survive their travails and remain powerful on the world stage,” says Caron. “At the same time, China is on the path of superpower status, and India has great potential if it can harness its growing technological and economic might.”
Caron’s relationship with UBC began nearly 20 years ago when he collaborated with two of UBC’s top experts on Asia—Paul Evans of IAR
and the Liu Institute for Global Issues and Brian Job of UBC’s Dept. of Political Science—on a plan for improved security collaborations between Canada and Japan.
“I feel like UBC has been part of my world forever,” says Caron, who participated in the Vietnam cease-fire mission as a junior embassy official in the 70s. “I really cherished the opportunity to work closely with Canadian universities when I was abroad or visiting Canada.”
Today, instead of advising federal and provincial government and business leaders as ambassador, Caron shares his real-world experiences with the next generation of leaders.
“It is very rewarding to work with students,” says Caron, who was also Canada’s top representative to Mongolia, Bhutan and Nepal. “I hope my experiences can help to illuminate and clarify the theories that students explore in studies and research.”
One of Caron’s key messages to students is the importance of language in diplomacy and business.
“To really succeed you need to learn the language,” says Caron, who speaks English, French, Japanese and some Mandarin and Hindi. “You need to be able to speak directly to people and read their newspaper and literature. That’s what sets the pros apart from the visitors, and how you begin to truly understand a country.”
Caron helped organize eight G8 summits and served as the main diplomatic staff for former Prime Minister Jean Chretien and former deputy Prime Minister John Manley at four Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summits.
Caron, who was born in 1947 and raised in Pain Court in Southwestern Ontario, says representing his fellow citizens is an unforgettable honour.
“As corny as it sounds, the opportunity to serve your fellow Canadians is truly satisfying,” Caron says. “It is thrilling to operate in a milieu that is not your own. I’ve had a front row seat to the world and I’ve loved every minute of it.”
Learn more about UBC’s Institute of Asian Research at: www.iar.ubc.ca
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