No more provocative testing of missiles or nuclear weapons by North Korea and a level of continued cooperation between the South and North are the top outcomes evolving ever since last year’s inter-Korean summits – Ambassador Choe Hyoung Chan
The historic renewal of dialogue between North and South Korea, with the international community engaged in the establishing of new relations with North Korea, represents a process that will have its ups and downs, but which, if successful, will restore peace on the Korean Peninsula, assesses the new Ambassador of Korea to Serbia H.E. Choe Hyoung-chan in this interview for CorD Magazine.
While he monitors events unfolding in his own country closely, Ambassador Choe Hyoung Chan is also finalising preparations to celebrate three decades of diplomatic relations with Serbia. Although he admits that the peoples of Korea and Serbia know little about each other, the ambassador notes some similarities between the two nations, both geopolitically and economically. Both of them, as he says, are located on peninsulas that have seen off many conquerors, both have survived devastating wars and been confronted with the need to rebuild national economies from ruins.
Good bilateral relations create opportunities for new Korean investments, but also bring offers for Korea to share with Serbia the experiences and know-how that led to an extraordinary economic transformation of that country, which today has one of the world’s most developed economies.
How would you assess the results of the meeting in Hanoi between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un?
It is regrettable that the second summit between the U.S. President and the North Korean Leader could not produce a complete agreement. One of the key issues, as reported, was to narrow the gap of perceptions of the two parties on how to balance denuclearisation measures against corresponding measures, including lifting sanctions.
No deal was struck this time, but it seems that meaningful progress was made on enhanced mutual understanding and confidence between President Trump and Chairman Kim. Continuing their dialogue is critical because there is no better option than diplomatic negotiations. President Moon Jae-in has pledged that the South Korean Government will closely communicate and cooperate with North Korea and the United States to help their talks reach a complete settlement.
We look forward to the continued support of the international community in consolidating a permanent peace regime, as well as the complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula
What do discussions between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un mean for the stability of the Korean Peninsula?
Last year’s diplomatic efforts, starting with North Korea’s participation in the Pyeong-Chang Winter Olympics and leading to inter-Korean summits and the first ever U.S.-DPRK summit in Singapore, have all contributed to maintaining security and stability on the Korean Peninsula. And it was the determination of the leaders of the two Koreas and the United States that made the political context on and around the Korean Peninsula to shift from tension and stand-off to peace and dialogue.
The Korean government will again play an active role in resuming talks between North Korea and the U.S. as early as possible.
Complete denuclearisation is a commitment stated very clearly by North Korea in the outcomes of the inter-Korean and U.S.-North Korea summit, but it is also clear that complete denuclearisation cannot be achieved through one or two meetings. So, it is vital to sustain the current momentum for dialogue and pursue negotiations with patience, perseverance and good faith.
What effects are we seeing today from last year’s historic meetings between the leaders of the respective Korean states, Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un?
No more provocative testing of missiles or nuclear weapons by North Korea and a level of continued cooperation between the South and North are the top outcomes evolving ever since last years inter-Korean summits. In particular, at the Pyongyang summit last September, the two Koreas agreed to completely cease all hostile acts against each other and to advance inter-Korean cooperation in such areas as rail and road connections, a joint special economic zone and tourism. An aspiration of the South Korean government is to secure a virtuous cycle between denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula and the advancement of inter-Korean relations.
We look forward to the continued support of the international community in consolidating a permanent peace regime, as well as the complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.
You arrived in Belgrade late last year. What would you say about the beginning of your residence in Serbia?
I arrived in Belgrade last November and presented my letter of credence to President Vučić in just two weeks. Since then I’ve been meeting with the Prime Minister, ministers, the Speaker of the Assembly and mayors as often as possible, in order to get acquainted with the political system, the way of working and thinking in the government and, more importantly, to explore areas of further cooperation.
Even though Korea and Serbia are geographically far away from each other, and the people of the two countries have lived in quite different cultures and don’t know a lot about each other, I feel that we also have something in common. Being friendly to a foreigner is just one of the virtues we share, and I am the beneficiary of this great hospitality extended not only from the government officials with whom I frequently meet but also from ordinary Serbian people I’ve encountered for the first time on the streets.
The geopolitical positioning of the locations of the two countries placed us in situations where we constantly had to suffer invasions from outside throughout history. Both the Korean and Balkan peninsulas went through regional division and colonisation for a long time. I believe that we have much to learn from each other’s histories, rich experiences and great efforts to bring regional peace and stability.
Serbia and Korea mark the important anniversary of 30 years of diplomatic relations during your term. Are you planning something special to commemorate this occasion? Since 1989, we have witnessed remarkable developments in our bilateral relations. Based on our achievements, the year 2019, which marks the 30th anniversary, will be a landmark year in our journey towards future partnership. Three main points that I would like to focus on are, first, increasing high-level visits; second, strengthening economic partnership; and, third, broadening cultural exchanges.
Starting with the visit of the Chairperson of the Korean Fair Trade Commission in March, we will exert our utmost efforts to increase high-level government and national assembly visits.
Recently, economic cooperation between the two countries is showing a significant upward trend. In addition to the opening of a new factory of Superior Essex in Zrenjanin and the 5th factory of Yura in Leskovac last year, an increasing number of Korean companies are considering Serbia as their new investment destination. In line with such developments, Korean investors in Serbia will gather on a regular basis to share information and discuss further cooperation.
Culture is the area where we have seen the most dynamic successes over recent years. Since 2017, the Embassy has organised month-long Days of Korean Culture festivals. This year, the Embassy will host a year-long cultural programme, starting from March, to celebrate the anniversary, which will include a performance by the Korean National Dance Team (22nd April, Sava Centre); K-pop Festival; Korean Movie Week and so on.
When presenting your credentials for accreditation to the President of Serbia, you agreed that political dialogue should be intensified. How do you intend to contribute to that aim?
High-level political dialogue is one of the most effective ways to strengthen momentum for cooperation between the two countries. On the occasion of the 30th anniversary, one of the priorities is to hold the Korea-Serbia Policy Consultation, which has not been held for the last two years due to several circumstances. The policy consultation would cover a wide range of bilateral issues, from politics and economics to culture and people-to-people exchanges.
Both the Korean and Balkan peninsulas went through regional division and colonisation for a long time
You stated upon arrival in Serbia that you consider the enticing of Korean investors as one of your priorities. Do you already have some potential investors in mind?
Upon taking this office, I could feel both expectation and confidence in Korean investors through several meetings with Serbian officials, including President Vučić. As the Korean Ambassador to Serbia, I will endeavour to provide support to Korean investors when they come to Serbia to launch their new investments. At the same time, the further establishment of an institutional framework, such as a bilateral investment treaty, is high on my agenda. Korean companies in many different fields – from producing gloves for industrial use, interior items for vehicles and shoes, to industrial waste management – are now considering Serbia as one of the most promising destinations to start doing business.
Korean investments in Serbia began with the arrival of the Yura, which manufactures cables for motor vehicles, while late last year saw the opening of the factory of company Essex Europe, which will produce enamelled/ magnet wiring. Do you consider that Serbia has the labour potential and know how to also entice investments from companies dealing with technologies, such as Samsung, for example?
A high-quality labour force, strong support and incentives from the Serbian government, a wide FTA network encompassing the EU, Russia and Turkey, as well as a location at the hub for transportation in the Balkans, are the main reasons why Korean companies are attracted to Serbia. In particular, many Korean investors who’ve visited Serbia were impressed by the competitiveness and work ethic of the labour force. If consistent efforts of the Serbian government to reform are combined with a capable labour force, their potential will exceed everyone’s expectation.
Korean auto company Hyundai is considering opening a production plant in the region, with Croatia mentioned as a possible location. Given that Serbia has a tradition of vehicle manufacturing, could it also be interesting to investors from this sector?
In addition to Yura and Superior Essex, it is an evident trend that Korean companies are turning their heads towards Serbia, which possesses great potential to be a production base for reaching out to the EU market.
What we also need to take note of is that, among the Korean companies operating in Serbia, many companies are closely related to vehicle production. In fact, they export most of their products to Hyundai and KIA factories in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Serbia has the potential to attract more vehicle-related industries to its country. However, at this moment the Embassy has no information about Hyundai’s exploration for investment in the region.
You’ve offered to share with Serbia your experiences of economic recovery and progress, which was achieved in Korea in record time and for which the country is renowned. What would you first advise to your interlocutors in Serbia?
Korea deeply sympathises with Serbia’s strategy to achieve economic development through the attracting of more foreign direct investments from the world. At the same time, I believe it is crucial to continue investing in research and development (R&D), which can provide a firm base for the country’s own manufacturing industry. Korea achieved astonishing economic development in a rather short period of time, emerging from the ashes of the Korean War. In the late 1990s, we suffered a severe financial crisis. It was a great challenge for our entire nation to overcome these crises; yet, at the same time, it enabled the Korean government to build a sound economic structure through relentless reforms.
In order to support Serbia’s successful development, the Korean Embassy has been organising economic seminars in various fields, such as IT Start-ups and competition law. In March, the Korea Fair Trade Commission and the Serbian Commission for the Protection of Competition held a very successful workshop on competition policy, which we believe will prove helpful for Serbia in advancing towards EU accession. We are also planning to hold a seminar to share our own experiences in the course of economic development during the second half of this year.
The Korean government will again play an active role in resuming talks between North Korea and the U.S. as early as possible
Korean investors in Serbia will gather on a regular basis to share information and discuss further cooperation
Korea deeply sympathises with Serbia’s strategy to achieve economic development through the attracting of more foreign direct investments from the world