Korean ‘wave’ in Belarus
[b]It’s hard not to notice the recent rapid development of mutual relations between Belarus and the Republic of Korea. Intensive economic dialogue is being observed, with civil contacts expanding and cultural interchange ever growing. The Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Korea to Belarus, H.E. Mr. Kang Weon Sik, tells us about what has promoted the sudden ‘Korean wave’ in Belarus [/b][b]Mr. Ambassador, what factors are guiding the mutual interests of our states and why are such geographically remote counties collaborating? [/b]Since 1992, when diplomatic relations between the Republic of Korea and the Republic of Belarus were established, bilateral relations have been steadily developing. After the Embassy of the Republic of Korea opened in Minsk in December 2007, contacts began to develop even more quickly, covering political, economic, cultural and other spheres.
Mr. Ambassador, what factors are guiding the mutual interests of our states and why are such geographically remote counties collaborating?
Since 1992, when diplomatic relations between the Republic of Korea and the Republic of Belarus were established, bilateral relations have been steadily developing. After the Embassy of the Republic of Korea opened in Minsk in December 2007, contacts began to develop even more quickly, covering political, economic, cultural and other spheres.
Geographically, the Republic of Korea and Belarus are 9,000km distant but this creates no significant obstacles to bilateral ties. This is the age of globalisation and informatisation, when geographical distances present no serious problems. Also, our states have much in common, boasting great potential for co-operation. We feel an acute need to develop relations.
Our two states are united in their aspiration to expand national interests and develop their economies while enhancing standards of living and preserving peace and security within the international community. I’m convinced that collaboration between our countries greatly contributes to the achievement of these goals. Friendly contacts between our citizens are ever developing, as are bilateral relationships.
How do you assess prospects for investment co-operation between the Republic of Korea and Belarus?
Trade-economic liaisons between our two states are steadily expanding, although the recent global economic crisis caused trade to fall slightly. According to official Belarusian statistical data, in 2010, our turnover almost reached $107m (up 30.2 percent on 2009). Of course, this does not yet fulfil our potential for trade-economic collaboration but I have no doubt that it will continue to rise in the future.
Our trade-economic co-operation primarily focuses on goods; higher level collaboration involving direct investments and joint ventures is yet to be seen, regretfully. However, after the establishment of the Korean-Belarusian diplomatic relation, larger scale trade-economic co-operation began developing only recently. The opening of the Embassy of the Korean Republic in Belarus has brought on visits from the Korean Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Korea International Trade Association, the Korea Importers Association and other trade-economic delegations. Moreover, the number of Korean entrepreneurs in Belarus is also gradually growing, which must be a sign of expanding economic collaboration between our two countries.
Korean companies are now analysing how best to enter the Belarusian market and invest money profitably. They are investigating Belarus’ potential and opportunities for further co-operation and injection very thoroughly.
In my view, to encourage Korean investments into the Belarusian economy, active collaboration is required from Belarus, alongside efforts from our Government and our Embassy. The Belarusian Government and business circles should provide information on Belarus’ advantages and disadvantages, while informing Koreans of promising areas for investment. This should bring definite proposals for the Korean side. Moreover, it’s vital to ensure favourable conditions and to form a system which enables foreigners to freely conduct entrepreneurial activity in Belarus. Korean enterprises want to develop under free market economy conditions, seeking secure investments in Belarus which allow them to become involved in commercial activities.
Mr. Ambassador, a recent visit by a delegation of Korean business people was organised with your assistance. What came of the meeting at the Belarusian Chamber of Commerce and Industry?
On May 24th-26th, Belarus was visited by a delegation of the Korea Importers Association (KOIMA), comprising 20 representatives from 14 Korean companies. The Korea Importers Association is a unique import-oriented economic organisation, which is involved in importing over 50,000 items, from over 100 countries worldwide. Its major import items include raw materials, ready-made goods and ultra-modern advanced materials and components.
Last year, the total trade volume of the Republic of Korea amounted to $900bn, with imports standing at almost $430bn. I believe that the visit to Belarus paid by a delegation from the Korea Importers Association (which accounts for 80 percent of total imports into the Republic of Korea) was of great significance.
A memorandum on mutual understanding was signed between the Korea Importers Association and the Belarusian Chamber of Commerce and Industry during the visit. Additionally, a decision has been made to expand and strengthen trade-economic co-operation between our two states, by activating mutual visits by economic delegations. Moreover, during the Belarusian-Korean business seminar, which took place on May 25th, negotiations took place regarding imports and exports of such diverse produce as lubricant and engine oil, polyethy-lene fibre, timber, powdered milk and ready-made dairy products.
At present, I’m unaware of the exact results of the meetings and whether final contracts have been signed but, as part of the talks, approximately $25m of agreements were discussed. The Embassy can’t reveal the details of private companies’ terms but we can confirm that the Korean enterprises taking part in the business workshop praised the negotiations. We believe that this opens up prospects for growing trade between our two states.
In one interview, you said that your Embassy plans to focus on developing business diplomacy. Tell us more…
The world is changing quickly, adapting to new trends, so the requirements and role of embassies and diplomats must also alter. During the Cold War, the major task of an embassy, as a representative office of a country, was political. As soon as the age of ‘economic globalisation’ arrived, promotion of trade-economic co-operation came to the fore, alongside traditional diplomatic activity.
Business diplomacy is a key task of our Embassy but we aren’t unique in this; all governmental organisations and diplomatic missions promote business diplomacy. Simply put, the ‘diplomacy of sales’ aims to support enterprises’ trade activity. If we speak of the broader notion of ‘business diplomacy’, we primarily envisage the creation of opportunities for doing business. We study demand and the potential of a country’s enterprises and government, while further ties with companies also play a vital role.
In future, our Embassy plans to focus even more greatly on business diplomacy, seeking out enterprises in both states for whom collaboration will be beneficial. We need to find Korean and Belarusian companies which can meet the requirements and demands of both sides. Accordingly, the visit by the delegation from the Korea Importers Association is an example of implementing ‘business diplomacy’.
Combining Belarusian developed fundamental sciences and technologies and Korean experience of commercial realisation of technologies, co-operation of Belarusian highly educated labour resources and Korean global marketing experience are a successful path for our ‘business diplomacy’; other avenues of collaboration are also evident.
How do business circles from South Korea assess Belarus’ geographical location? Do they view it as an additional competitive advantage? Has Belarus’ attractiveness grown with the launch of the Customs Union with Kazakhstan and Russia?
Due to its favourable geographical location in the centre of Europe, we can say that Belarus has definite geo-economic benefits. A motorway and a railway, connecting Russia with Western Europe, pass through Belarus, as do famous ancient trade routes (which begin in Scandinavia and lead to Greece through Ukraine). Despite Korea being a peninsular state, we exist as an island, due to our split as South Korea and North Korea. Korea is envious of Belarus’ road and rail network, which connects it in all directions to the Eurasian continent.
In my opinion, the Customs Union of Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan, formed in 2010, has further strengthened Belarus’ geo-economic position. Belarusian goods, manufactured by highly qualified labour, have duty free entry to a huge market of 170m people; it’s a great advantage. Meanwhile, Belarusian goods can be transported quickly, due to well-developed road and rail infrastructure.
Korean companies are looking carefully at these geopolitical advantages possessed by Belarus, as a great number of Korean enterprises are seeking new opportunities worldwide. Korean world leaders, such as Samsung, LG and Hyundai Motors, are already working in Russia and Poland. Soon, not only Korean goods but also enterprises could be seen in Belarus.
Mr. Ambassador, besides trade links, our states are also seeking a closer relationship regarding international security. How important is it that Belarus voluntarily refuses nuclear arms?
In Korea, Belarus is known as ‘White’ Russia. Koreans were once called ‘a nation in white clothes’. Historically, our two countries are pure and simple-minded; enmity and hatred have always been alien to us, so we greatly appreciate the values of peace and reconciliation.
As I’ve already mentioned, Belarus and Korea have much in common. We are both surrounded by powerful countries and have witnessed confrontation and the cluster of world interests. In North-Eastern Asia, we have the Korean Peninsula; Belarus exists in the region of Eastern Europe. Our locations allow us to make our own contribution to the promotion of international peace and security of course.
Nuclear arms development by North Korea is one of the most serious threats to world security, since nuclear weapons could destroy humanity. Their use would bring the most terrible consequences — difficult even to imagine. Nuclear weapon development by North Korea isn’t just a problem for the Korean Peninsula; it influences the whole world. North Korean nuclear research is provoking escalation in the region, which could cause economic decline in North-East Asian countries. The whole global economy would be greatly affected.
Accordingly, I highly appreciate Belarus’ voluntary refusal to house nuclear arms as a form of deterrent. For the sake of neighbouring countries, and the whole world, Belarus has decisively refused the temptation of possessing nuclear weapons. We should praise Belarus’ efforts to live peacefully and promote peace worldwide.
I’d like to address those powers which are yet to reject nuclear arms and those which seem confident that nuclear arms are the only route to security: ‘Come to Belarus right now and learn something!’
How important are efforts to bring closer the citizens of Belarus and the Republic of Korea? What has been already done and what are the future plans to allow us to learn from each other better? How do you view dialogue to date?
How much do Belarusians know about Korea? It’s a country which is divided into South and North Korea, with rapid economic growth, successfully manufacturing high quality electronic appliances (Samsung, LG, etc.) and automobiles (Hyundai and KIA). Of course, Koreans don’t know much about Belarus either. I’m convinced that improving mutual understanding and trust between our two nations, while enhancing interest, are the major, fundamental conditions of developing bilateral relations. Having achieved these, bilateral relations will develop naturally.
Being founded 5000 years ago, Korea boasts a bright cultural heritage, with ancient buildings, traditional music and art and a host of other arts. At the same time, it leads in contemporary cultural events, with pop music and fashion trends developing rapidly. A new cultural phenomenon — a ‘Korean wave’ — is proving popular in China and Japan, as well as across South-East Asia and Latin America. In recent times, Korean pop music and films have also become popular in France, the UK and other European states; love for Korean culture is in vogue. Korean history and traditional culture are being presented in the Korean Hall of the National Art Museum of Belarus. I hope that the ‘Korean wave’ will become widespread across Belarus, since we share so many emotional perceptions and experiences.
Already, the Centre for Korean Studies and the Korean Language and Culture Centre are operational at the Belarusian State University and Minsk’s State Linguistic University. Moreover, the number of students studying the Korean language at these educational establishments as their major speciality is constantly rising. I believe this again proves that interest towards Korea is gradually enhancing in Belarus.
Korean interest in Belarus has also risen, with Koreans paying attention not only to Belarus’ economic potential but, particularly, to its calm, hard-working, careful, sincere and peaceful character. It’s constantly underlined that, in the 21st century, feminine softness is a source of power. In my opinion, Belarus boasts a corresponding national character and culture. Our Embassy promotes knowledge of Korea in Belarus, while widely informing Koreans about Belarus. In this way, we’re trying to improve mutual understanding between our peoples.
In Belarus, our people are united by special ties, since 1,300 ethnic Koreans permanently reside here. They don’t forget their roots and preserve their origins in their memories and hearts but are contributing to Belarus’ development in various areas. I hope they’ll play a vital role in establishing a bridge between our two states, making a considerable contribution to the development of bilateral relations. In fact, information about Korea is spread through ‘Arirang’ dance band and ‘Hangul’ school, founded at the Association of Ethnic Koreans. These also play an important role in increasing the number of exchanges and enhancing mutual understanding between our two countries.
2012 will be especially vital, since it marks the 20th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Republic of Korea and the Republic of Belarus. It is the age of maturity, so our Embassy is planning a range of events to improve mutual understanding and trust between our states. I believe that this will enable us to develop relations in a spirit of mature partnership.
By Nina Romanova