Your Excellency, first of all, as you’ve recently started your mandate as the Republic of Korea (ROK)’s Ambassador in Romania, Nine O’Clock team would like to join all those who have extended to you wishes of luck and a prosperous mission here.
How would you assess the current level of the bilateral relationship, especially in period of time elapsed since the two countries signed the Strategic Partnership?
First of all, I would like to thank you for getting back to me for this interview, after publishing my opinion this March, around the time I arrived here. This year represents the 26th Anniversary of the ROK-Romanian Diplomatic Relationship. 26 years might seem a short period of time, given the long history of both countries. However, both Seoul and Bucharest have established a vigorous relationship of exchanges and cooperation that encompasses politics, economy, and culture. Bound to each other by a close friendship and trust, both states have upgraded their diplomatic relationship with the signing of the Strategic Partnership, and at the same time, reinforced strategic communications bilaterally, regionally, and globally.
It was September 2008 when the ROK and Romania launched the Strategic Partnership Initiative, which was one year after Romania’s accession to EU. Two years later, in July 2010, both sides signed the Joint Action Plan of the Implementation of the Strategic Partnership Declaration.
Korea is the only country in the world that has concluded framework agreements with the European Union, in all three major fields of politics, economy and security. Therefore, in May 2010, the Korea-EU Framework Agreement was signed, followed five months later by the Korea-EU Free Trade Agreement. In May 2014, the two partners also signed the Framework Participation Agreement, aimed at facilitating Korea’s future participation in operations held under the umbrella of the Common Security and Defence Policy of EU (CSDP).
This means that the close partnership between Korea and EU serves as a catalyst for deepening further bilateral relations with EU member states, in particular with Romania, because the latter continues to reaffirm strong commitments to the European project and aligns its foreign policy with the European agenda.
In the light of the above arguments, both the ROK and Romania are well-positioned to further enhance cooperation, not only bilaterally, but also within the broader framework of the Korea-EU partnership.
In a nutshell, a closer Strategic Partnership makes sense, and both governments are working closely together to make that happen.
What are your main priorities here, aimed at strengthening this very special partnership between the two countries and bringing added value to the achievements achieved so far under its umbrella?
I am honoured and very lucky to serve as the Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to such a great country as Romania, and I consider it my duty to further promote our future-oriented and mutually beneficial partnership on the following three pillars:
The first pillar is to continue our close cooperation, at both bilateral and multilateral levels, including support inside the UN concerning peace and prosperity in the Korean Peninsula. Especially, these issues related to peace and prosperity in the peninsula, more so to the North Korean nuclear problem, have become one of the most serious threats to peace and security of the world after North Korea conducted two nuclear tests already this year. As far as the Korean Peninsula is concerned, we do appreciate that the Romanian government has played a constructive role. We maintain our hope and trust that Romania will continue to make such genuine and valuable efforts, aimed at promoting peace and prosperity in the Korean Peninsula.
The second pillar focuses on further deepening our economic and trade relationship. Since both economies are mutually complementary in nature, closer economic and trade relations between our two countries will surely produce a synergy effect. This will result in a win-win outcome for both sides. Moreover, there is great potential for growth in this area. It is for this reason that I will give priority to further strengthening our bilateral economic and trade relations.
Last but not least, the third pillar aims to further expand people-to-people contacts in all areas, including politics, economy and culture, because doing so will surely help significantly promoting our bilateral relations; it will increase people’s interest and understanding in each other. Both sides will continue to build mutual trust and friendship, thus narrowing the relationship between the public and private sectors and contributing to the foundation of a long-term bilateral diplomacy.
The Romanian-Korean Strategic Partnership brings mutual benefits to both countries not only from a bilateral point of view, but also regarding the promotion of each country’s interests in the geographical area of the other. How do you think that this special Strategic Partnership can contribute to better supporting Romania’s interests in the Asia-Pacific area, and also to better promote South Korea’s interests in Eastern Europe and in the European Union?
Romania views the ROK as a valuable strategic key partner in Asia, acting as a bridgehead in order to advance its interests in the Asia-Pacific region. As both countries share common values, such as human rights, democracy, rule of law and open-market principles, cooperation between them is reflected through regular political dialogue, increased economic exchanges, together with educational and cultural ties. What Romania offers is a vibrant economy, with vast resources, bright, educated human capital and stable democratic climate for investments. However, there is a high untapped potential, and this Strategic Partnership contributes to bringing it to fruition.
Romania has a lot of advantages as a desirable business and investment destination thanks to its EU membership, its geo-economic location, and its well-educated and motivated workforce – particularly, in the ICT and automotive sector – together with relatively low labour costs and abundant natural resources. Romania’s location could also provide meaningful opportunities for stronger cooperation and collaboration between our countries.
In this regard, our Embassy has been taking pro-active measures to further broaden the horizon of mutual understanding, friendship and cooperation, hosting a range of cultural activities and programs as well as to facilitate visits by economic and trade delegations. Furthermore, our Embassy is actively arranging, in close consultation with our home government and the Korean business community, for various economic and trade delegations to visit our two countries respectively in order to further promote bilateral trade and investment flows.
Also, as part of our efforts to strengthen the existing institutional framework of friendship and cooperation, we have been working to conclude a variety of bilateral agreements. For instance, both sides have activated the revised Visa Exemption Agreement on March 13 this year, which is aimed at facilitating the speedy and smooth settlement of businesspeople. The military information protection agreement and an MOU on Port Development Cooperation and an MOU on Environmental Protection Cooperation were signed in recent years. The Agreement on Cooperation in the Area of Educational and Cultural Exchanges is in the pipeline as well. And both sides are expected to sign the MOU on Consultations and Cooperation Between both of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs.
Besides the very important political dimension, the Strategic Partnership has a significant economic component, which, since the very beginning, has been a main engine of Romanian-Korean bilateral cooperation. What can be done jointly by the two Governments, in your opinion, to further stimulate and encourage economic exchanges and make them more dynamic in line with the potential of the two countries?
Our bilateral trade has grown noticeably with the volume exceeding the 1.15 billion-dollar mark last year, from US $18.6 million in 1990, and it is expected to continue to increase. It is gratifying to note that this has a huge potential for expansion.
More than 200 Korean firms are registered in Romania. These include global firms such as Samsung Electronics, Samsung Otelinox, LG Electronix, Doosan IMGB and Daewoo Mangalia Heavy Industries (DMHI), as well as very competitive small and medium-sized companies that are also successfully operating here in Romania. I will do my utmost to ensure the success of these Korean companies, which will in turn help strengthening our economic partnership. Given that this prosperous partnership is a two-way street, I also look forward to the Romanian government continuing its support and cooperation for Korean companies.
Considering all these, I would like to highlight three important considerations. Firstly, both our respective governments and private sectors are committed to further enhancing cooperation and collaboration, in order to advance our common economic agenda. To this end, both sides held the 9th Industrial Cooperation Committee meeting, as well as the Business Forum in Bucharest in April this year, so that both Seoul and Bucharest could explore ways to further upgrade their business and commercial exchanges. Secondly, both sides are also working closely together to further encourage and promote business and commercial exchanges between Korean companies and their Romanian counterparts, with an emphasis on SMEs. The third element is that South Korea has continued the so-called “Knowledge Sharing Program” with Romania in a concerted effort to help the latter to enhance its productivity and competitiveness of the industry.
Bearing all these in mind, our Embassy, the Korea Trade Centre in Bucharest, and other stakeholders are all pooling their wisdom and efforts to arrange for as many economic and trade delegations as possible, in order to form strategic partnerships, particularly through business trips between Korea and Romania. We will do our best to facilitate these visits and exchanges, in order to help them explore the huge commercial opportunities lying ahead of us.
You’ve recently hosted a cultural event and the reception to celebrate Korea’s Foundation Day in Romania. What was your main message addressed on that occasion to the Korean community living and working here?
For the Republic of Korea, the National Day Reception, which marks the 4,348th Anniversary of the founding of the first kingdom on the Korean peninsula, represents the biggest annual event. Not only is this event a celebration of the very first kingdom ruling over the Korean Peninsula, but it also represents a special occasion for Koreans abroad to feel closer to our motherland.
Traditionally, Koreans express their feelings of happiness and sadness by holding an event where we invite all our friends and neighbours, where we share food, sing together or even mourn together. The well-known saying, “shared joy is double joy and shared sorrow is half-sorrow”, reflects very well the Korean culture, which celebrates good fortune and offers consolation for bad luck and misfortune. I truly believe that not only our similar history and culture bring us together, but also common feelings of sympathy that are mutually shared between our countries. In this sense, our fine culture and arts can be well received by other people.
I wanted this year’s National Day Reception to be an event that shows our traditions; in light of celebrating our country’s great day, Korean people who live in Romania invite their Romanian neighbours to share their happiness through performances by the talented young musicians of our two countries and traditional Korean dishes. In particular, the “Korea-Romania Friendship Concert” emphasizes once again a tight cooperation between public and private sectors. We owe the success of this event to the efforts of the Korean people, not only in Romania but all throughout Europe, and we hope our guests would have seen our united efforts at the Reception.
What can be done to further enhancing the human bonds linking our two countries through cultural and education exchange programs?
I think that it is absolutely important to understand that the human bonds between our countries have played a key role in further deepening our partnership in all fields, and will continue to do so in the future. In light of this, I should mention the size of the Korean and Romanian Diasporas in each other’s territories. While it is true that their size is rather small mainly due to the relative short history of bilateral relations, as I have mentioned earlier, each has, nonetheless, made a great contribution, and will continue to do so, creating a bridge between two peoples in such a way that mutual understanding, respect and cooperation are further promoted.
The Korean community in Romania is small, but growing as bilateral exchanges, particularly in the economic field, increased over time. There are around 500 Koreans living all throughout Romania. Most of them live in three areas, namely Bucharest, Mangalia and Oradea. These people are actively playing a constructive role as a bridge between our countries. I would like to take this opportunity to express our deepest gratitude for the warm care, active support and cooperation that the Romanian government and people have shown to us. It is also worth noting that more and more Koreans have recently been visiting Romania. Almost 17,000 Koreans came here last year. We expect this figure to continue to grow with the passage of time as Koreans become more aware of Romania’s rich cultural and historical heritage, its natural beauty, and, of course, its warm-hearted and open-minded people.
You may wonder how many Romanians are living in Korea. As far as I understand, there are around 300 Romanians currently residing in Korea. It gives me great pleasure to see that these Romanian people also serve as private diplomats to further enhance people-to-people contacts in a way that helps strengthen our Strategic Partnership. Equally encouraging is the fact that more than 13,000 Romanians visited Korea last year.
In a nutshell, such dynamic human exchanges will surely help put our partnership on a solid path in the 21st century and beyond, because they will greatly help our two nations to better understand, gain more knowledge of, and have greater interest in each other. Both the Embassy of the Republic of Korea in Bucharest and the Embassy of Romania in Seoul are working hard to make that happen.
How can we substantially improve the trading opportunities between Romania and Korea, and what are the promising areas or sectors for further expanding bilateral trade?
I recently invited H.E. Mr. Mihai Ciompec, the new Romanian Ambassador to Seoul, to my residence and had a nice talk. We have agreed on the necessity for bilateral cooperation in many different fields including politics, economy, education, and culture and promised to work through joint efforts. Additionally, I conveyed my observation to my Romanian counterpart about the spreading of the Korean business community across the country, as Romania’s strong economy has many incentives for Korean investments. Especially in the economic field, there are many promising areas for bilateral cooperation; these include energy cooperation, ICT (Information and Communications Technology), electronic and electrical components, semiconductors, automobile parts and components, agriculture, construction and, of course, infrastructure. In this era of energy transformation, we will also be able to work together in the nuclear industry.
I hope and expect that both countries will continue to work closely together to convert each other’s great potential into reality. As Ambassador to your great country, I will continue to do my best to make that happen.