Romania and the Republic of Korea celebrate today 25 years since establishing diplomatic relations. As any anniversary moment, celebrating a quarter of a century of diplomatic relations between Seoul and Bucharest is not only a great opportunity for a balance and a review of steps and achievements made so far in building the edifice of bilateral cooperation, but also a chance to contemplate the future opportunities, based on the realities of the present and the potential of the two states.
The return of Romania in the world of democracy, after the Revolution of 1989, created the path and the favourable premises to establish diplomatic relations with the Republic of Korea. Despite of a relatively short history of bilateral interactions, the Seoul – Bucharest relations experienced remarkable dynamics in all fields: political-diplomatic, economy, culture, but also on the wider international level of supporting their mutual interests in the areas and regions they belong to.
Romania has a trustworthy partner in the Republic of Korea for the Asia-Pacific region. On its turn, the Republic of Korea considers Romania an important partner, both from the perspective of its significant potential, especially economical, of the bilateral relation, and also because of our country’s membership to the European Union, under the circumstances that the strategic dialogue of the EU and South Korea experienced a constant development in the last few years, proved, by example, by the signing of the Free Trade Agreement of the two sides in 2010.
A retrospective glance shows that, although they are located on different regions of the Earth and although diplomatic relations were officially established no earlier than 25 years ago, Romania and the Republic of Korea managed to built, throughout this period, an outstanding relation. It is an exemplary relation of mutual friendship and trust, that was consolidated more and more as time went by, due to increasing mutual interest for developing the bilateral cooperation, but also to the complementarities in the of the two countries.
Moreover, this relation became more dynamic especially after 2008, after the signing of the Strategic Partnership, a document that marked a substantial quality improvement in the relations between Bucharest and Seoul, in all fields: the intensification of political and diplomatic dialogue, of economical cooperation, of sharing common values, such as democracy, human rights, Constitutional state and market economy.
After the diplomatic relations of Romania and South Korea were officially initiated on March 30, 1990, an initial important political signal of the interest shown by authorities of both countries to place bilateral cooperation on new bases was given by the first official visit of a Romanian President in Seoul, made four years later, in March 1994, by Ion Iliescu.
I had the honour of being a member of the delegation of journalists that accompanied the Head of the Romanian state in the Korean capital. I will never forget this visit, that impressed me due to its novelty. Not only because I was included for the first time, as a young journalist, in the team of a top-level official visit; but also because I was truly attending a historical visit. No more than five years have passed since the Revolution and the first President of democratic Romania was stepping on the ground of South Korea carrying a message of friendship and of great openness for the development of mutual relations, and was received with the greatest honours in the capital of a highly active nation, with a flourishing economy and an exquisite management. It was a country that was not accidentally called “a miracle”. I was coming from a Bucharest that was still quite grey and confused after four years that had passed since the Revolution and I still remember how impressed I was by the Korean capital, that revealed itself to us, the members of the delegation, as an important metropolis.
I was equally impressed by the fabulous way the entire Romanian delegation was received (a delegation that included also the Foreign Affairs Minister and the Trade Minister, Members of the Parliament and businesspersons) by the South-Korean hosts, who overwhelmed us with their attention and hospitality. Not to mention that one of the days we spent there happened to be Foreign Affairs Minister Teodor Melescanu’s birthday, whom the hosts celebrated with a lot of surprises.
Preparing this special supplement dedicated to the anniversary of 25 years of diplomatic relations between Romania and the Republic of Korea made me search in the Nine O’Clock archive and thumb through the collection of papers of March 1994, to reread the articles I wrote at that time, in Seoul. Here is an excerpt of the article entitled “First Romanian-Korean Summit”, published on March 10, 1994:
<<After the 1989 Revolution, conditions have been favorable for establishing diplomatic relations between Bucharest and Seoul. An upward development of the political relations between the two countries has been registered over the last four years. President Iliescu’s state visit to Seoul has a particular importance in that it will open a new chapter in the history of the multi-faceted relationship of friendship and cooperation between the two countries.
“Your Excellency’s visit to Korea will not only invigorate our friendly and cooperative relationships, but it also gives momentum to the efforts to further narrow the distance between Eastern Europe and Eastern Asia”, the President of the Republic of Korea declared in the speech delivered after the reception ceremony of the head of the Romanian state.
In his turn, President Iliescu declared that, “we have stepped on Korean soil with feelings of friendship. This first bilateral summit in Seoul is a moment of outstanding importance for Romanian – Korean relations. I look forward with great interest to the talks that we are going to have and to the meetings with members of the Government, of Parliament and of the political parties and last but not least, with representatives of the powerful Korean economy”>>.
In the article entitled “Republic of Korea – A “Lucky Goldstar” for Romania: New prospects for the Development of Romanian-Korean Economic Cooperation”, sent from Seoul on March 11, 1994, I was writing among other things:
<<Of paramount importance to the Romanian President’s visit to the Republic of Korea is the establishment of stable economic relations. Registering one of the quickest rates of economic development in the world in the last 25 years, the Republic of Korea is known as “the economic miracle on the river Han”.
After setting up of diplomatic relations between Romania and Korea in March 1990, the two countries signed three documents which helped Romanian-Korean economic relations register a new course of development in August 1990. Specifically, these documents were a commercial accord, an accord on scientific and technical cooperation and an accord specifying the mutual promotion and guarantee of investments. Since then, the presence of Korean investors on the Romanian market has increased. >>
It was merely the beginning of the Romanian – South Korean cooperation, yet, corporations and giants of Korea, such as Daewoo, Hyundai and Samsung, were already showing their interest in Romania, identifying an opportunity to promote South-Korean economical interests in Europe.
<< “For Daewoo and South Korea in general, Romania represents a good business partner” Daewoo sources declared during the meeting. “Romania could also be a good market for the delivery of the South Korean products and a bridge towards the West”, Daewoo ship building company chairman, declared.>>, I was writing in the same article, describing the visit made by the Romanian delegation at the Daewoo headquarters in Pupyong, completed by strengthened confidence of both sides in the prospects of the future cooperation.
21 years have passed since that moment. There were other top-level bilateral contacts in 2006 and in 2008, when the Presidents of the two countries outlined their wish to lead the outstanding bilateral cooperation developed so far to a higher level. Therefore, they signed the Strategic Partnership between the two countries, which represented the political sign of a new turning point in the cooperation between Seoul and Bucharest in all fields, especially economy.
Today, Korea, who was one of the top foreign investors ever since the beginning of the 90s, when Romania started opening up its economy, still keeps a dominant position in the chart of foreign investments.
Seen from the very beginning as a great opportunity and as a promising business destination for top Korean investors, the Romanian market provided in the years that followed new points of interest, to determine these investors to intensify their presence here and to increasingly explore the potential represented by Romania: an important geo-strategic location, an educated population, the fact that our country became a member of the EU, the constant efforts made by authorities to grant a solid, transparent and predictable business environment, meant to encourage investors.
The passing of time was merely a powerful confirmation that the bilateral relation of Romania and the Republic of Korea is a win-win situation that brought added value year after year to a strong and exemplary partnership, opening wider and more flourishing perspectives for the years to come.
It is worth mentioning that the recent bilateral political consultations held in Seoul earlier this month, during the visit made by State Secretary for Global Business in the Foreign Affairs Minister Carmen Liliana Burlacu confirmed once again the interest of both countries to intensify political dialogue, diversify economical cooperation and human exchanges. During Ms. Burlacu’s meeting with her counterpart, the First Deputy of the South-Korean Foreign Affairs Minister, Cho Taeyoung, the text of an agreement was signed, including changes in the bilateral accord regarding visas, presently applicable in the consular relations of Romania and the Republic of Korea. The changes will bring significant additional facilities to businesspersons of the two countries.
Moreover, the officials discussed possibilities to stimulate the economical cooperation between Romania and the Republic of Korea by concrete actions, such as the Joint Committee for Industrial Cooperation, scheduled in Seoul, in May 2015, or the possibility to attract the South-Korean private sector in bilateral and regional projects.
All of these are a plain confirmation of what His Excellence, Mr. Park Hyo-Sung, the Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to Bucharest had declared in a recent interview, referring to the Romanian – Korean relations: “The best is yet to come”.