The ambassador of the Republic of Korea to Sweden, Hee-yong Cho, along with a delegation including the cultural attaché from the Korean Embassy in Stockholm, visited Riga this week to promote ‘Korea Day.’ Events included a Korean film night showing ‘Mother’ and ‘Crossing,’ a Korean food reception and promotion, and the performance of the internationally acclaimed musical ‘Nanta.’ The diplomatic mission was also intended to improve ties and understanding between the people of Korea and Latvia. Both countries are similar in many ways, in their history and culture, and the visit was part of a longer term plan to bring the two nations closer together.
Ambassador Cho took time out to respond to questions from The Baltic Times.
What will be the outcome of the current crisis, the sinking of a Korean navy ship, in relations between North Korea and South Korea?
The sinking of a South Korean corvette ‘Cheonan’ resulted from a military attack by North Korea, as demonstrated by the scientific and objective investigations conducted by a multi-national expert group. North Korea’s provocation is an explicit violation of the charter of the United Nations and existing agreements reached for the sake of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, including the Korean War Armistice Agreement and the Basic Agreement between South and North Korea.
North Korea should be held accountable for its own action. President Lee Myong-bak has directly urged North Korean Authorities to apologize and punish those who are responsible for and were involved in the incident. The recent incident is a fresh reminder that the Republic of Korea cannot give economic support to North Korea without any conditions attached. North Korea should restrain from any further provocation and show their willingness to pursue the irreversible denuclearization and become a responsible member of the global community with concrete actions.
Regarding further provocations from the North, the Korean government would take resolute measures against them as its right to self-defense. The Republic of Korea is also solidifying its security alliance with the U.S.
Is China playing a constructive role in resolving this crisis, one appropriate to its standing in today’s global order?
China, as a neighboring strategic and cooperative partner and host of the six party process, shares stakes of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia as a whole. We firmly believe that China is also well aware of the gravity of the Cheonan incident. We expect that China will continue to play a constructive role in coping with this issue as a responsible stake-holder in the world.
How have relations between Korea and China changed over the past 15 or so years. Where have been the improvements, and what are still some of the difficult areas?
Korea has had a very long relationship with China, both geographically as well as strategically. It is well known that China, together with the former Soviet Union, was a close ally of North Korea during the Cold War. When the Cold War ended, however, everything has drastically changed. Since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1992, China and South Korea have continued to expand mutually beneficial and substantial cooperation and exchanges in almost every area. In 2008, two leaders agreed to elevate the bilateral relation to a “strategic and cooperative partnership.”
The total trade volume between Korea and China increased to around $168 billion in 2009, and China is now the No. 1 trading partner of Korea.
As for the number of people traveling between the two countries, it was merely 130,000 persons in 1992, and dramatically increased to 5 million now, and there are 850 flights between the countries per week.
In the meantime, China, as the host country of the six-party talks, has performed a constructive role in terms of maintaining peace and stability on the Korean peninsula. Korea has also pursued its strategic dialogue with China in dealing with North Korea.
The relationship between Korea and China has been substantially growing and future-oriented, and has still much more room to expand in the future.
What advice could Korea give to the Baltics to emulate Korea’s economic success story of the past 30 years? What basic structures do we need to have in place?
We are very proud of the fact that Korea has achieved economic development and full-fledged democracy within a relatively short span of time. Korea joined the OECD in 1996 and became a member of G-20 countries in 2009. As a matter of fact, Korea is the only country which has succeeded in transforming itself from an aid recipient country to an aid donor country since the end of the Second World War.
Regarding the factors behind our rapid economic success, we have benefited from competent leadership, dedication to education and a tendency to present a united front to crises from without, as demonstrated by the nationwide gold collecting campaign in response to the financial crisis back in 1998. Please also note that Korea invests 3.5 percent of its GDP on R&D, and this figure is expected to increase to 5 percent in 2012.
Externally, the Korean government has consistently pursued open-door policies in its economic relations and has engaged with the international community as a priority of the national policy.
The Baltic States, since regaining independence from the Soviet Union back in 1991, have come a long way and have made a strategic decision to join EU and NATO.
As Korea and the Baltic States share so many similarities and common ground in the international community, Korea is ready to share its experience with the Baltic States and wish that expanding bilateral ties and engagements would result in mutual benefits.
What is the awareness of the people in Korea of the Baltic States, in terms of tourism possibilities, the culture and business opportunities?
The Baltic States and Korea have seen the bilateral exchanges increase rapidly since establishing diplomatic relations almost 20 years ago, but the relationship still has a long way to go. The Korean Embassies in Sweden, Norway and Denmark, which are in charge of the Baltic States, have been doing their best to promote the bilateral ties, respectively. The Korean government is seriously considering establishing a diplomatic mission in the Baltic States in the near future. Once leaders and business people visit each other, we will see more cooperation and exchanges in the fields of tourism, business and culture as well.
How big are Korea’s investments in the three Baltic countries? In what areas are these? Will investment increase?
In 2007, before the global economic crisis hit the world, the trade volume between Korea and the three Baltic countries was around $430 million. Due to the adverse effect of the economic crisis, however, it decreased to $423 million in 2008, and marked a steep fall to $250 million in 2009.
When it comes to the trade volume between Latvia and Korea, it is around $100 million and commercial investment from Korea is approximately $7.7 million. Korea’s major exports to Latvia are synthetic resins, tires, wireless telephones, and major imports are timber, including plywood, and scrap metals. Samsung and LG electronics also have their Baltic regional offices in Riga and actively run their business with the three Baltic countries. Furthermore, with the double taxation convention between Korea and Latvia in effect, bilateral commercial trade and business are expected to be expanded.
Due to its location in the middle of the Baltic region, Latvia is now emerging as a hub of logistics in the CIS region and Russia. Considering this, the potential capacity of economic cooperation between Korea and Latvia is truly enormous. Moreover, with the Korea-EU FTA coming into effect soon, the exchanges with the three Baltic countries will be further expanded.
Korea has a rich history in the arts and sciences. Will there be any traveling exhibitions of this material to the Baltic region any time soon?
The Korean government does not hesitate to share its knowledge in the arts and sciences with the Baltic States. The Embassy of the Republic of Korea had ‘Korea Day’ events in November last year, and we had the same event on June 8 and 9 this year. The Korean government is considering various projects to promote Korea’s culture on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of establishing diplomatic ties next year and hope that the year 2011 would be a defining moment in the bilateral relationship.
Korea has in its history a period of occupation, by the Japanese, early in the last century. The Baltics too were occupied, by the Soviet Union, until recently. What were the lessons learned after regaining independence in 1945 and in beginning to rebuild a democratic and sovereign nation?
The Baltics and Korea have a few similarities. Korea is located between China and Japan and the Baltics have been surrounded by big neighbors as well.
That means that you have to stay on alert all the time and maintain your national competitive edges and security preparedness by solidifying the existing alliance and friendly relations with other countries.
We must have a clear understanding about changes taking place abroad, since we cannot live in isolation. Korea has no natural resources to speak of and a lot of things hinge upon how to manage its international relationship.
As Korea grows in international stature, the country is making more efforts than ever to make contributions to the global community under the diplomatic slogan of “global Korea,” for example, by sending peace keeping operation units to the troubled regions and providing official development assistance to developing regions of the world. In November this year, Korea will host the G-20 summit and play a pivotal role in terms of reaching international consensus as to how to resolve and prevent international financial crises in this interconnected world.
What does Korea Day mean to the Korean people, and how is this expressed or celebrated?
Latvia and Korea established diplomatic relations in October 1991. The year 2011 marks the 20th anniversary of our relationship and the two countries have developed mutually beneficial relations over the last 20 years. But, we have not had sufficient opportunities to introduce Korean culture to Latvia.
As Ambassador of the Republic of Korea, I hosted the Korea Day reception in Riga, Latvia last November. This year we also presented the Korea Day events, consisting of the Korean Film Night on June 8th, and a Korean food promotion event and Nanta performance on June 9th. Through these events, Latvian friends could have a better understanding on, and more interest in, the Korean culture. At the same time, I hope that Latvia will present opportunities to appreciate its culture to the Korean people as well.
The Embassy will continue its efforts to promote Korean culture in Latvia through various means.
As the next year marks the auspicious 20th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations between Korea and the three Baltic countries, Korea wishes to host a variety of cultural events in Riga, Tallinn and Vilnius and expects a reciprocal response from the Baltic States.