The invitation I had received from Korea Foundation to visit Seoul, along 28 prominent journalists from 23 countries, brought me back on May 17 in the South Korean capital, in a beautiful spring Sunday. I confess that was awaiting with great impatience and curiosity the arrival of the great metropolis I was about to see again no less than 21 years after my first visit there. It was March 1994, when I accompanied the Romanian President of that time in his first official visit to this country, after diplomatic relations were established. Afterwards, I only found out about the evolution of the Republic of Korea through stories in the international media and events promoting the country and its politics, organized regularly by the Embassy of the Republic of Korea (ROK) in Bucharest.
Last week, after over 20 years, I was returning to this country in a research program intended to present to journalists of various countries of the world interesting things about the culture and traditions of this country, to present the directions of regional and international policies by the authorities in Seoul, but also to show us what the “economical miracle of Han River” or things derived from the economical boom, such as, by example, the appearance of Korean wave.
Even as my plane prepared to land on the Incheon airport, which did not exist in 1994, during my first contact with Korean realities, as it was inaugurated only in 2001, my sensation was that I was visiting a completely different country, a different capital that the one I had discovered over 20 years ago.
Out of pure luck, we were accommodated at a central luxury hotel, facing the new City Hall of Seoul, not far away from the hotel I had been accommodated in with the official delegation in 1994. It is useless to mention that I recognized nothing of the landscape, due to the extraordinary rhythm of building ultramodern buildings and infrastructure facilities, and each kilometre I traveled from the airport to the hotel made me acknowledge that my son was right when he told me, after hearing that I was to visit the Republic of Korea: “Wow, mom, you are going to travel to the future!”
Indeed, this was the impression I had ever since landing, and it got more and more clear as the week spent in the ROK went by: that I was a traveler to the future.
I must say that today’s South Korea really symbolizes the future, due to its fantastic economical, technological and digital development in the present, but also due to its policies concerning education, unanimously appreciated by decision makers in Seoul as the best investment in the progress of the country.
I must mention that I was under the impact of the action of the famous best-seller “Please look after mom”, by writer Kyung-sook Shin, a book I had read during the flight from Paris to Seoul, and I was thinking, as I arrived to the hotel and decided to go for a walk exploring the city, that I might get lost, just like the lead character of the book, in the metropolis I found so changed. Unrecognizable, I must add.
The second impression about South Korea, that became clear to me ever since arrival and I have confirmed afterwards, throughout my entire stay, was that this country enjoyed an increased international visibility and credibility, as it was a powerful voice, trustworthy in the concert of respected nations that have an important word to say. Both on a regional scale, but also on a wider international scale, due to an active and energetic diplomatic activity conducted by President Park and by the entire Government in Seoul.
By a fortunate coincidence, the visit of the group of journalists invited by Korea Foundation took place simultaneously with a series of noteworthy political and diplomatic events hosted by the South-Korean metropolis, that fully prove the outstanding influence exercised by South-Korean authorities in international relations. The influence I had noticed immediately as I started to skim through local papers and watch the news bulletins on TV channels. Where I immediately discovered that I had arrived to the capital of South-Korea at a time of major diplomatic effervescence.
First of all, it is worth mentioning that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was on a visit to Seoul those days. On this occasion, he had had crucial conversations with South Korean officials about key bilateral and regional issues. These discussions once again confirmed the special bond between the USA and ROK, a relation defined by Kerry himself during the common press conference held last Monday together with his Korean counterpart Yun Byung-se, as “stronger than ever”.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was also on an official visit to Seoul at that time, and the presence of India’s high official in the South Korean capital was celebrated by the fact that national flags of India were exhibited all over the city. As South Korean media reported, it was a visit that issued a highly important signal about the solid relations of the two countries, and it also revealed India’s interest in attracting as many investments as possible from the great corporations of this country, on a major market that totalized 1.2 billion consumers.
Also at the beginning of last week, simultaneously with the presence of the group of journalists invited by Korea Foundation, the South Korean capital was also visited by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who had been invited to hold a welcome speech at the opening ceremony of the World Education Forum (WEF) 2015, that gathered 1,500 participants from education-related UN agencies, civil society organizations and 195 UNESCO member states.
According to the official website of the event, Korea was not accidentally chosen to host this important and prestigious international event, as the country is “well known in the world for its advanced Information and communications technology (ICT) for education and content development”, and it is also a country that has all assets to “propose the future model of high-tech education and enter the global platform through joint partnerships”.
Also, in parallel with WEF, the South Korean capital also hosted last week the Seoul Digital Forum under the slogan “Motivated curiosity – seeking new breakthroughs.”
“Information and communications technology has transformed the global landscape. The communications revolution touches every aspect of the UN’s work,” U.N. Secretary-General said in his remarks at the Seoul Digital Forum.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed his gratitude to the Government of Korea for its help to launch a new state-of-the-art Accessibility Centre right in the heart of the United Nations.
“This is a wonderful initiative that provides cutting-edge equipment, including ICTs, so that persons with disabilities can fully participate in all intergovernmental meetings at our Headquarters. When we launched the Centre, I said it was a model of our new digital United Nations. I also pledged to do everything possible to bring this technology to other offices around the world. I thank the Government of Korea for continuing to support these efforts”.
“The Republic of Korea has the fastest, cheapest and most widespread broadband access in the world. For several years in a row, Korea is at the top of the U.N. list of leaders in this field. Korea ranks first in level of ICT access, use and skills,” Ban Ki-moon added. “Now I urge Korea to do even more to help other countries use this technology to boost development and reduce inequality,” U.N. Secretary-General told the Seoul Digital Forum on May 20.
He used the presence to this Forum to express his regret that early that morning, the authorities of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea informed through their diplomatic channels, that they were reversing their decision for him to visit the Kaesong Industrial Complex. A visit that was highly awaited by analysts and observers of Inter-Korean relations, especially that Ban Ki-moon was to be the first U.N. Secretary-General to visit the North Korean territory in 22 years.
“No explanation was given for this last-minute change. This decision by Pyongyang is deeply regrettable. However, I as the Secretary-General of the United Nations, will not spare any efforts to encourage the DPRK to work with the international community for peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and beyond,” the high official outlined. One day before, at World Education Forum, Ban Ki-moon expressed his satisfaction that he was about to visit again the North Korean border town of Kaesong he had visited before, in 2006, as a Foreign Affairs Minister of the Republic of Korea. “I believe it is a win-win model for both Koreas,” Ban Ki-moon said one day before finding out that his access in the inter-Korean joint venture town would be denied.
On the day Ban Ki-moon was expressing his joy that he was to visit the Kaesong Industrial Complex, President Park Geun-hye blasted North Korea’s repeated provocations and nuclear ambitions, saying they had damaged Asia’s economic growth and joint efforts to maintain stability in the region.”The Asian region has enormous growth potential, but as long as North Korea keeps blocking the blood vessels of growth with its nuclear threats and provocations, it will be difficult to expect the region to achieve genuine stability and progress,” Park said in a speech at the Asian Leadership International Conference hosted by Seoul on May 19.
About the unpredictability of authorities in Pyongyang and the continuous efforts made by South Korean diplomacy to face the challenges and continuous threats launched by the political regime in the North, we were about to find out many details during discussions held both in Seoul with the high officials we met or with journalists in the Korea Joongang Daily editorial team, as we have visited their headquarters during one of the days of our stay in Korea.
Yet, equally, this topic of Inter-Korean relations, as well as the topic of the vision of authorities in Seoul on unification issue also dominated the discussions on Jeju Island at 10th Jeju Forum with local officials and with Korean and foreign journalists, as the delegation of journalists invited by Korea Foundation, which included me as well, was invited to attend a Media Session entitled “Korean Unification as International Public Goods and the Role of the International Media”. It was a highly interesting session about the politics of South Korean authorities targeting the unification of the Korean Peninsula, as well as the benefits and the importance of this unification on a regional and international scale. It was hosted by Professor Park Heung-Soon, Dean, Graduate School of Sun Moon University and introduced by Professor Kim Jae-Chun , Director of Graduate School of International Studies, Sogang University, and I had the honour to be invited as a speaker in one of the panels, besides Simon Mundy, correspondent for Financial Times in Seoul and Roger Coover, President of The Record, U.S.
I will give a detailed report on my attendance to this seminar and the ideas discussed there in a future article, but, first of all, I would like to thank Korea Foundation, its President Yu Hyun-seok and the entire staff that made our stay in Seoul and on Jeju Island a memorable and unforgettable experience. To me, this visit brought plenty of professional and human opportunities, as it enriched me with numerous South Korean friends and 27 friends more, respectively the other journalists in the group of visitors I had been a part of, who I had shared this wonderful experience with, and who come from 23 countries: Arab Emirates, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Cameroon, China, Hong Kong, Costa Rica, Cote d’Ivoire, Ecuador, Egypt, Fiji, Ghana, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Tunisia, U.S.A, Uganda, Venezuela, Vatican, Vietnam.