On October 3rd of every year, Korea celebrates its National Foundation Day, known as Gaecheonjeol, literally translated as the “Festival of the Opening of Heaven”. It is a very special day for Koreans because it embraces their 5,000-year history that provides a great source of national pride, patriotism, and unity, while serving as a valuable occasion to reflect on the present and future directions of the nation.
Pursuant to the founding principle of the nation – Hongikingan in Korean, meaning “humanitarianism”, since it is to “broadly benefit the whole of humanity” – and with a vision of a new era of hope and happiness, the Korean government has, since H.E. Madame Park Geun-hye, President of the Republic of Korea, took office in February 2013, been vigorously pursuing its national policy agenda aimed at achieving “economic revival” and laying the “foundation for peaceful unification”, among other aspirations.
Korea has joined the trillion-dollar club of world economies. It is currently the world’s 13th largest economy and seventh largest trading nation. Being aware that the global economy is not yet out of the woods, Korea is pushing ahead with a ’Three-year Plan for Economic Innovation’, with a strong emphasis on the need for structural reforms in order to revitalize the economy. In addition, the government has continued to actively expand its FTA networks with a view to enhancing the nation’s international competitiveness and increasing the welfare of consumers. As a result, Korea currently has an FTA with 52 countries around the world and is now the only country in the world to have an FTA with all three mega economies: the EU, the United States and China. As a result, Korea’s ‘economic territory’ – meaning the combined GDP of its FTA partners – has expanded to cover more than 70% of the world’s GDP.
Such promising developments on the economic front create a sharp contrast with the relations between South and North Korea as highlighted by this year’s 70th Anniversary of the division of the Korean Peninsula. The fact that last year the world celebrated the 25th Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall – a powerful symbol of the end of the Cold War – makes it all the more surreal and sad to be reminded of such a division going on even today in Korea. Just as was the case with German unification, we do not know when Korean unification will actually occur. However, we do know that it will eventually happen and that it should be achieved peacefully.
Bearing this in mind, Seoul has been working hard to improve inter-Korean relations. Unfortunately, there is a huge trust deficit between South and North Korea. Thus, the Park Geun-hye government has been making every effort to carry out its basic policy agenda vis-à-vis North Korea, such as Trustpolitik, the Korean Peninsula Trust-Building Process, and the Northeast Asia Peace and Cooperation Initiative (NAPCI). NAPCI is similar to the Helsinki process in which Romania also participated. In January of this year, President Park took advantage of her New Year’s speech to urge North Korea to stop hesitating any further and to accept our genuine calls for dialogue aimed at discussing various reconciliation projects on the divided Korean Peninsula, including the reunion of families separated during the Korean War.
The scenes of these families being reunited, broadcast nationally and internationally, have always been so emotional and heartbreaking that it is really difficult to hold back the tears welling up in our eyes. Still, 70,000 older South Koreans, more than half of them in their 80s and beyond, are on a government waiting list, yearning for a chance before they die to meet children or siblings they left in the North. This is why we are eager to see the next round of family reunions due later this month. Given that strained cross-border relations have allowed only one reunion in the past five years, with several being cancelled at the last moment by Pyongyang, South Korea is committed to continuing its best efforts to make family reunions regular and routine, free from political tension.
As far as peaceful unification is concerned, it is critically important to understand that the North Korean nuclear issue should be resolved at the earliest possible date. In this regard, it is encouraging to note that U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, during their summit in Washington two weeks ago, on September 25, reaffirmed their commitment to the complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner. President Park Geun-hye will also deal with this issue as a top priority when she has a summit meeting with President Obama on October 16th in Washington.
Seoul and Bucharest have noticeably deepened their relations in the political, economic, cultural, and various other fields over the past 25 years
Might I say that this year’s Korean National Foundation Day also serves as a good occasion to reflect on the ever-deepening partnership between Korea and Romania as we mark the 25th anniversary of the establishment of Korea-Romania diplomatic relations. Indeed, Seoul and Bucharest have noticeably deepened their relations in the political, economic, cultural, and various other fields over the past 25 years, especially since the launching of the Strategic Partnership Initiative in September 2008.
To begin with, bilateral economic ties can best be characterized as a robust, most promising partnership. In fact, our bilateral trade has increased 67 times since our countries established diplomatic relations 25 years ago, while it has increased more than six times over the past 14 years, from less than $200 million in 2000 to more than $1.2 billion last year. Korea is now Romania’s second largest export market in Asia, after China. It is also important to understand that Korea has been among Romania’s major foreign investors since the early 1990s, when Romania began to open its economy. Currently, there are a number of Korean companies operating in Romania. These Korean companies are at the forefront of our deepening economic partnership. They include global firms such as Samsung, LG, Doosan, and Daewoo Mangalia Heavy Industries (DMHI), as well as other small and medium-sized companies. Korea’s investment here currently amounts to around $600 million. And the good news is, it is growing.
It is also worth noting that both governments are closely working together at bilateral, regional and multilateral levels, including at the UN, in addressing issues of mutual interest and regional and global challenges. Furthermore, it is encouraging to see cultural and human exchanges growing each year. For example, recently more and more Koreans have been visiting Romania. More than 17,000 Koreans came here last year. These Koreans truly appreciate the beauty of Romania as well as the warm hospitality of the Romanian people. This flow is not one-sided. More than three thousand Romanian tourists also fly halfway around the world to visit Korea every year.
It is against such a backdrop that Seoul and Bucharest are working hard to make the most of the Silver Anniversary this year with a view to substantially strengthening, both in depth and in breadth, the Korea-Romania Strategic Partnership in all fields, including the political, economic and cultural areas, among others. On March 28th, H.E. Madame Park Geun-hye, President of the Republic of Korea, and H.E. Mr. Klaus Iohannis, President of Romania, exchanged their congratulatory messages, which gave further impetus to the efforts to deepen the bilateral partnership. Bearing this in mind, the Embassy of the Republic of Korea in Bucharest is taking what we call the ABC approach. The acronym ABC in this case means “Activating, Broadening and Complementing”.
Firstly, we are working to further activate a variety of bilateral consultation mechanisms, while actively facilitating people-to-people contacts. Under this rubric, for example, both governments held the 8th High-level Policy Consultations in Seoul in March of this year. They convened the 8th Industrial Cooperation Committee Meeting in Seoul in May. The 2nd Policy Consultation Meeting between the Foreign Ministries of both nations was held in Seoul in August. Parliamentary diplomacy is also in full swing. A high-level delegation from the Korean National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee visited Bucharest in January. The Romanian-Korean Parliamentary Friendship Group visited Korea in May. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education Hwang Woo-yeo visited Bucharest in August. We expect that an additional number of Korean and Romanian dignitaries will shuttle between Seoul and Bucharest before this year is out.
Secondly, we are taking pro-active measures to further broaden the horizon of mutual understanding, friendship and cooperation. In this regard, our Embassy hosted a wide range of academic and cultural activities and programs as well as facilitating visits by economic and trade delegations. For instance, our Embassy held the “2015 Korean Culture Multiple Event in Bucharest” featuring a Seminar on Hanryu (Korean Wave) & on Korean Culture (in April, at the University of Bucharest); the “2015 Hanbok & Bojagi Exhibition” (in May and June at the National Village Museum); a special screening of a widely acclaimed Korean film entitled “The Face Reader” (in May, at Cinema Victoria in Cluj-Napoca); the “2015 Taekwondo Hanmadang (Festival) Event” (in May, at Sala Polivalenta in Bucharest) – Taekwondo is the art of self-defense that originated in Korea over 2,000 years ago; “Quiz on Korea 2015 – Romania Preliminaries” and the “K-POP World Festival 2015 – Romania Preliminary” (in July, at Palatul Natiopnal al Copiilor); the “Dabyeot Youth Wind Orchestra Performance” (in July, at the Romanian Athenaeum); and the “Korean Culture Relay Festival 2015” featuring the Korean Peninsula Unification seminar, Korean cookery classes, and A Taste of Korea (Korean cuisine buffet), and a screening of Korean films (in August, at Romano-America University). On the occasion of the National Foundation Day for this year, we will also host the Korean Culture Night, whose theme is “An Aesthetic Musical Journey into Dynamic Korea and the Land of Morning Calm” at the Romanian National Atheneum on October 7th.
Equally important are active business exchanges. Our Embassy and the KOTRA office in Bucharest have arranged, in close consultation with the Romanian government and various economic organizations in Romania, for business delegations to visit both Korea and Romania respectively in order to further promote bilateral trade and investment flows. Four Korean business delegations have visited Romania so far this year. One more commercial delegation is scheduled to come to Bucharest within this year. Along these lines, we also successfully hosted in September, in Bucharest, the “Korea-Romania SMEs’ Business Partnership Plaza 2015”, in cooperation with the Romanian Ministry of Energy, SMEs and Business Environment, the Romanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Association of Producers and Importers of Agricultural Machines in Romania, and other relevant associations.
Finally, both governments are pushing ahead with their plan to complement the existing institutional framework of friendship and cooperation by concluding a variety of bilateral agreements that are now in the pipeline. For instance, both sides initialed the revised Visa Exemption Agreement in Seoul in March, which is aimed at facilitating the speedy and smooth settlement of business people. In the same month, they signed the Military Information Protection Agreement in Bucharest. The MOU on Port Development Cooperation was signed in July in Constanta, while Korea agreed to carry out the KSP (Knowledge Sharing Program) for the year 2015, which aims at coming up with the “National Framework for Improving Productivity of Romanian Enterprises and SMEs, in particular, Substantiation of a Public Policy on Productivity”. Both governments are also working on the revision of the Agreement on Cooperation in the Area of Educational and Cultural Exchanges.
I am confident that our joint efforts as highlighted above will continue to bring our bilateral relations to new heights in the future. On this auspicious day of Gaecheon (Opening of Heaven) this year, we wish you all the blessings from Heaven and the very best of luck – Noroc!