Lundi 22 Avril 2019  

N°124 - Quatrième trimestre 2018

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     Corée du Sud
  S.E.M. / H.E. JU Chul-ki

A Friendship of 120 years fasten the French-Korean Global Partnership


This year’s celebrations honoring the 1886 signing of the France-Korea friendship and trade agrément testify to the close ties linking the two nations, which have established dynamic and wide-ranging cooperation since forging a global partenariaux in 2004. H.E. JU Chul-Ki, the Ambas-sador of South Korea to France, talks about his fast-changing country’s objectives and the challenges it faces as a strategic player in Northeast Asia.


The Diplomatic Letter: Mr Ambassador, the 120th anniversary of the opening of diplomatic relations between France and Korea is being celebrated throughout 2006 with a wide program of cultural, scientific and trade events. Could you tell us how France-Korea ties have evolved over the years? What are some of the key strides made in the “global partnership” forged during the December 2004 meeting in Paris between President ROH Moo-hyun and President Jacques Chirac? Could you briefly outline the two countries’ political dialogue for our readers?


H.E. JU Chul-Ki: Our two countries did, indeed, sign a friendship and trade agreement 120 years ago, in the hopes of establishing friendly and fruitful ties built on political dialogue and diplomacy. But these initiatives soon dropped off, as Korea underwent difficult national trials from the very start of the 20th century.

The French Battalion’s participation in the UN volunteers during the Korean War (1950-1953) was a defining moment in the development of Korean-French relations. But our ties have grown even stronger than ever over the past twenty years, now that Korea has become a modern society with a dynamic economy and full-fledged democratic political system.

Today, Korea and France have warm bilateral relations that are growing ever stronger. The meeting between presidents ROH Moo-hyun and Jacques Chirac at the close of 2004 opened up bright new prospects, with our two leaders agreeing to build a global partnership for the 21st century. Doubling our bilateral trade in five years’ time and raising the volume of trade to $US 10 billion was one of the objectives laid out at their meeting. Trade between Korea and France grew 16% in 2005, climbing to $US 5.9 billion. At this pace, we hope to reach our goal ahead of schedule.

Overall, the future looks bright for economic and commercial cooperation between our two countries. The construction of the KTX, the Korean high-speed train launched on 1 April 2004 after ten years of close cooperation with Alstom SA, created new prospects for cooperation between Korea and major French groups. The Korea France Chamber of Commerce and Industry, opened in 2005, now brings together some sixty Korean firms operating in France. It will help to further reinforce our countries’ economic and trade ties, working in partnership with the French Korean Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Seoul. In addition, the Korean and French Ministers of Health recently signed a social security agreement that will simplify exchange procedures for expatriates, particularly for entrepreneurs.

In the cultural arena, the Korean and the French peoples share a keen interest in art, which is an essential part of their civilizations which they endeavor to promote and preserve. Our countries have numerous artist exchange programs, and are also organizing a growing number of cross-cultural events.

Korean-French political dialogue focuses on three key issues, which are playing out largely on the international political stage. Korea and France consult each other frequently on nuclear matters, as part of their mission to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Our two countries are also working hard to keep the joint projects set up by the UN to foster peace and development moving steadily forward. Moreover, Korea and France both realize that exchanges and cooperation between Asia and Europe need to be expanded. They are working together to deepen Eurasian ties, by taking part in ASEM (Asia-Europe Meeting) cooperation programs such as ASEM-DUO, as well as ASEF (Asia-Europe Foundation) projects.


T.D.L: The events celebrating the establishment of bilateral diplomatic ties lay special focus on young people and creativity, with the aim of bolstering relations between the two countries through slogans like “Corée au cœur” and “Go France!” (Adja France!). Could you give us a few examples of joint French-Korean programs? What can be done to build greater mutual understanding between the Korean and French peoples? Numerous joint projects have been launched in recent years in the scientific and academic arenas. Could similar synergies be forged in the field of research as well?


H.E.J.C-K.: Celebrating the 120th anniversary of diplomatic relations between France and Korea is another important decision taken by presidents ROH Moo-hyun and Jacques Chirac at their 2004 meeting, with the aim of underscoring our two countries’ strong ties and giving our peoples a chance to get to know each other even better.

Some 200 events that showcase our countries’ respective cultures are being held in France and Korea, under the slogans “Corée au Coeur” and “Adja France!” Celebration organizers, artists, and public officials have worked hard to make this event a success and ensure it makes a lasting impression on Koreans and French alike.

We are looking forward to many fine events, such as the “Korea Fantasy” show presented by the Korean National Theater Troupe in the sumptuous setting of Versailles Castle. The open-air activities during the “Ganggangsoowollae” festival in Paris will give spectators a hands-on taste of Korean culture. We are also very eager to introduce the French audience to “Le jeu du Kwijo,” a Korean version of “Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme.” A joint production of the play by the Théâtre de Lorient and the Korean National Theater will be staged in both Korea and France. In addition, dancers Carolyn Carlson and Kim Maeja have joined forces to create a contemporary dance work that blends eastern and western dance techniques.

We have launched a massive publicity campaign to ensure that a wide audience knows about these events: printing programs, holding press conferences, and creating official 120th anniversary Internet sites. We hope to have successfully achieved our goal.

Culture is an excellent vector for building greater mutual understanding between our two peoples. But we must boost our exchanges all across the board, especially people-to-people contacts between teachers, journalists, businessmen, and students. Tourism figures show there is a large gap between our two countries in this area, with 350,000 Koreans visiting France every year but only 45,000 French traveling to Korea.

Both of our governments would like to strengthen their ties in the science and technology sectors. Korea has already shown that it can quickly adapt to competition in this arena, whether it concerns information and communications technologies (ICT), biotechnologies (BT), new technologies (NT), environmental technologies, or the aerospace sector. Several ongoing joint projects include know-how exchange programs. Korea is taking part in the ITER project (International Nuclear Fusion Project). A Pasteur Institute has also been opened in Korea. Numerous bilateral think-tanks are helping expand industrial and technological cooperation between our two countries, such as the Industrial Cooperation Commission, the Committee on Cooperation in Information and Communications Technologies, and the Energy Cooperation Committee.

In another example, the Korean cell phone company VK opened a research and development center in Issy-les-Moulineaux in 2005. This augurs well for additional partnerships with French firms, since the market is changing very rapidly in this sector, where our companies are renowned for their expertise.


T.D.L.: The French-Korean high-speed KTX train, along with the creation of the LG Electronics European Research and Development Center in the greater Paris region, are good examples of the strong economic partnership forged by our countries. Could it be expanded in other sectors as well? Has the ongoing shift in your country’s economy created new opportunities for French companies on the Korean market?

H.E.J.C-K.: Korea is currently working with the EADS group to build a helicopter, as part of the KHP program. This is a major cooperation project in the high-tech industry, like the KTX program before it.

Our country is determined to become a regional trade hub, and is transforming itself to that end. However, the Korean service sector cannot yet meet the growing needs, in particular when it comes to tourism and banking services.

Thanks to its central location in Northeast Asia, its abundant logistics infrastructures, and its ability to make rapid science and technology innovations, Korea is in the perfect position to become one of the region’s leading hubs for logistics, technology and financial services. What’s more, the Korean market alone has some 48 million consumers. Korea has catapulted itself back into the consumer era, especially for electronic, audiovisual and computer products, which are constantly changing markets. Moreover, the economic situation in Korea is very positive, with our economy growing at a rate of around 5.5% over the past five years. Korea is thus a trustworthy partner for foreign partners such as France. It offers numerous advantages for breaking into markets in Northeastern and Eastern Asia, two all-important regions which will be essential pillars of the world economy in future years.


T.D.L.: The Korean economy seems to have rebounded nicely, after being undermined by the 1997 Asian financial crisis. How is the Korean government going to keep the economy strong while it solves the problems of unemployment and growing social inequalities? What is it doing to keep the Korean economy competitive on the globalized market, especially with stiffer competition from Chinese industries?


H.E.J.C-K.: Korea was able to overcome the 1997 crisis by enacting deep-reaching economic and corporate sector reforms that put its economic system back on track, by emphasizing stability and transparency and reinforcing a free and fair market economy. Thanks to these measures, along with the help our country received from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Korea quickly reclaimed its position in the world economy and began posting stable and steady growth rates once again.

In order to solve the problems of unemployment and widening social inequalities, Korea will have to keep growing at a sufficient pace and overcome the challenges of globalization. We have made good headway toward those goals, thanks to reforms made in the banking sector and in corporate and administrative management. The growth rate for the first quarter of 2006 was 6.2%, and the year-end figure is expected to be at least 5%.

We are currently looking for ways to build a better social security system and to improve benefits and financial aid for families, areas where France sets an excellent example.

Maintaining a steady growth rate will be a major challenge for us, with China at our doorstep. Our neighbor is posting record growth rates and has set the competition bar extremely high. We cannot remain competitive in traditional industries as China moves in, which is why Korea must break into the highly promising high-tech sector and go the distance with the most competitive countries working in this field.

Korea must also continue working to establish itself as a key economic hub in the region, and to forge partnerships with foreign companies that enable it to remain competitive. “Reform” and “innovation” are now the watchwords pushing Korean society steadily forward.


T.D.L.: The nomination of HAN Myeong-sook to head the Korean government, on 24 March 2005, was a political watershed for your country. Should this be seen as a reflection of deep changes in South Korea and a stronger role for women in Korean society? With the 2007 presidential election drawing near, how would you describe President ROH Moo-hyun’s track record to date? What are some of the key issues at stake in the upcoming election?


H.E.J.C-K.: Women’s role in modern-day Korea is being rapidly widened. Women have a bright future ahead of them in our country. They play a vital role in keeping Korean society balanced and moving forward. We are extremely pleased to see a woman at the head of the government. This is a first for our country, as no woman has ever held this honorable post before. Ms. HAN Meong-sook has fought hard to build democracy in Korea. She also has substantial government experience, serving in the previous administration as Minister for Gender Equality (2001-2003) and Minister for the Environment (2003-2004). We are confident she will be able to successfully run Korea’s affairs of state, alongside President Roh.

As the December 2007 presidential election draws near, President ROH can be proud of his positive track record during his first term, reflecting the goals he laid out for our country when he took office. He has managed to stabilize the Korean economy while fighting corruption as well as collusion between business leaders and bureaucrats. Financial transparency is the leitmotiv of the measures launched to this end. Korean society is now sounder, as well as more mature. In fact, reform and innovation – in every single sector – are the bedrock upon which President ROH has built his presidency.

President ROH has also made showing greater openness towards North Korea a top priority, continuing down the path laid out by his predecessor. He has made great headway in inter-Korean cooperation and dialogue, by building a climate of mutual trust and setting the hard-and-fast condition that our problems with North Korea be resolved through dialogue. A reconciliation between our two countries is President Roh’s end goal, with an eye to eventually reuniting the Korean peninsula.

The next head of state should, in my opinion, keep striving to achieve these two vital goals. He must also strengthen Korea’s role on the international political and economic stage, which is another key factor in ensuring our country’s future.


T.D.L.: President ROH Moo-hyun has worked hard to bolster Korea’s role as a stabilizing force in the region, as he pushes his “peace and prosperity policy.” With North Korea demanding that US economic sanctions be lifted before it returns to the negotiating table, can the agreement reached on 19 September 2005 to begin normalizing relations still move forward?


H.E.J.C-K.: I believe that the six-party agreement reached on 19 September 2005 will be put into effect, even if the dialogue has broken down for the time being. It is important for all parties to show more patience and more openness to proposals from other partners, in order to get the talks moving forward again as quickly as possible. The gap between the North Korean and US positions is still too wide. North Korea is demanding that economic sanctions imposed by the United States be lifted, before it comes back to the negotiating table.

This is a very thorny issue, but the Six-Party Talks are the only way to resolve the problem of North Korea’s nuclear weapons. South Korea would like to see all the parties return to the negotiating table, so that we can achieve the objectives laid out in September 2005.


T.D.L.: On a broader level, and in view of the Iranian question, what strategy would Korea like to see the international community take toward nuclear proliferation? Do you think there are limits to what can be accomplished through diplomatic channels with Iran and North Korea?


H.E.J.C-K.: Continuing to look for a peaceful solution, with a united international community, is the best strategy toward the problem of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and nuclear weapons in particular. We must uphold a clear position: a total halt to all military nuclear programs. It is a bit premature to talk about the limits of diplomatic efforts. We must follow through with our efforts, until every last possible resource has been exhausted.

As for North Korea specifically, we are confident that we can still ease tensions and resolve the nuclear problem once and for all through dialogue. And while the Six-Party Talks did break down roughly eight months ago, we are trying to rekindle this dialogue. The various participants are actively encouraging North Korea to return to the negotiating table. North Korea must realize that it will have to abandon its nuclear ambitions and become a responsible member of the international community. Peace on the Korean peninsula is a precondition for peace in Northeast Asia and around the entire globe. Moreover, we believe that a rapprochement between the two Koreas would help to resolve the North Korean nuclear question.


T.D.L.: Despite the tensions sparked by the nuclear issue, relations between South and North Korea have grown stronger in recent years, with the opening of the Gaeseong industrial park and widening contact between the two societies. As former president Kim Dae-jung gets ready to visit Pyongyang, what specific steps could be taken to move toward the reconciliation sought by your country? Should the issue of human rights come into play in the handling of the North Korea problem? Looking into the future, how do you feel about an eventual reunification of the Korean peninsula? What impact would this have on the geopolitical stage?


H.E.J.C-K.: While the nuclear problem has yet to be resolved, South Korea is indeed strengthening its ties with North Korea, through its peace and prosperity policy.

The Gaeseong industrial park, set up north of the demilitarized zone, is beginning to operate, despite a few hitches. The creation of an economic and industrial complex of this scale will have very positive spin-off. If this project is a success, North Korea should begin cooperating more widely with the international community.

Contacts between our two societies are also expanding, thanks to tourism and more frequent inter-ministerial talks. The project to link the two Koreas by railways is moving forward. A test run will soon be made on a 27-km stretch of rail line, with 100 South Koreans and 100 North Koreans on board.

Former President Kim Dae-jung, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his “Sunshine Policy,” will visit North Korea this coming June. It will be his second visit to Pyongyang, after traveling there to attend the historic first-ever inter-Korean summit on 15 June 2000.

While we expect good things to come of this visit, we cannot predict the outcome at this time. Meetings like this help to bring the two Koreas closer and are positive for peace in the region and throughout the world.

It is true that respect for human rights is an issue in North Korea. Here again, we hope that things will get better and that North Korea will make a real commitment to the international community to resolve this problem.

In my opinion, while Korean reunification is a far-off objective, it is one that can be reached. It is more than a mere ideology, it is a necessity. Korea has always stood united in the past. A strong Korea would be a good vehicle for ensuring stability, détente and prosperity throughout the region.


T.D.L.: The rapprochement between your country and China, spurred by the growing importance of the Chinese market in South Korean foreign trade, is reflected in your shared view on the North Korea question. How do you explain the current “fascination” with China in South Korea? Could you give our readers a brief outline of China-Korea dialogue and cooperation? What are your thoughts on China’s current economic boom, and its impact on the rest of the region?


H.E.J.C-K.: South Korea is actively committed to trying to draw North Korea back into the international community. China, too, would like to help gradually bring about changes in North Korea, for historically motivated reasons and because of its proximity to this country. South Korea and China have taken the same stand on the nuclear question, hoping to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

Northeast Asia is experiencing an economic boom, with China continuing to post skyrocketing growth rates. China’s rapid development is good for the Korean economy. Inversely, Korea is helping China grow. In fact, Korea has become one of the leading suppliers and investors in China. Since Seoul and Beijing normalized their diplomatic relations, in 1992, bilateral ties have been deepened substantially all across the board. Korea would like to see a prosperous China at its side. China’s development is not a threat, but just the opposite. It is good for the Korean economy as well as the world economy. China’s great competitiveness is obviously a challenge we will have to step up and meet, in order to remain competitive on the global market and retain a comfortable technological edge.

Korean government policy strives to build friendly ties and a strong partnership with China and with the other countries in the region, in order to heighten cooperation and political dialogue and thus enable us to work together hand-in-hand to build regional peace and prosperity.


T.D.L.: The first ever East Asia Summit was held in Malaysia last December, opening up a brand-new chapter in regional integration. Could you describe the budding political dimension of the East Asian economic integration process? Could tensions spurred by past conflicts, especially those tied to Japan’s colonial history, hinder this process? How can they be overcome?


H.E.J.C-K.: The Southeast Asia regionalization process gathered pace with the first-ever East Asia Summit, held this past December, which brought together the ASEAN member countries and China, Korea, Japan, India, Australia and New Zealand. It should also be noted that additional integration processes were already underway in the region, such as APEC.

The East Asia integration process will come together slowly, in successive stages. A strong cooperation zone in East Asia would help build a balanced global economy and ensure world peace.

Issues tied to Japan’s colonial past have hindered the regionalization process from time to time, but we believe that most of the Japanese people have a more objective view of history than some of the country’s more conservative political leaders.

The visit to the Yasukuni shrine by Japanese political leaders to honor Japan’s war dead – including war criminals – caused quite a stir. We hope to see these leaders acknowledge past errors and actively embrace our campaign to create a regional cooperation and security zone, by heeding the lessons of history.

The countries of East Asia are piecing together an economic integration process. Several Asian countries have taken steps in view of setting up free trade agreements. Numerous accords are already in the works, including agreements between, respectively, China, Korea, Japan and ASEAN. Korea has signed a free trade accord with Singapore, and talks are already underway on a free trade agreement between Korea and Japan. Study groups are also assessing the feasibility of a free trade agreement between the countries of Northeast Asia, Korea, China and Japan. ASEAN is looking at ways to set up an alliance that would link the East Asian economy to the Indian economy, while every country in Northeast Asia tries to do the same on an individual basis.


T.D.L.: In November 2005, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum met in Pusan, South Korea’s second largest city. The APEC region now accounts for 57% of the global economy. Can you tell us some of the strategies outlined in Pusan to foster the creation of a single APEC market? Do you think we can come up with a collective response to the global challenges faced by the Asia-Pacific region, starting with terrorism and the avian flu? Did the APEC talks help spur the breakthroughs made at the WTO summit in Hong Kong?


H.E.J.C-K.: APEC, which brings together East Asia and America, across the Pacific Ocean, is helping to foster dialogue and cooperation between countries neighboring the vast zone known as Asia-Pacific. APEC did lay out the objective of creating a free market in the Bogor Goals. That said, it is still too early to think about setting up a common market. APEC has enabled us to lay the cornerstones for wider economic cooperation. For the time being, we need to concentrate on signing bilateral agreements. APEC summit meetings also give us an opportunity to address issues tied to the global challenges faced by our region, such as terrorism and the handling of the avian flu. APEC is a discussion forum for addressing issues that, in truth, concern all of mankind.

During the meetings held in Pusan in November 2005, our political leaders discussed what needed to be done to reach the objectives of easing restrictions on trade and boosting investment in the region, by the year 2010 for the developed countries, and by 2020 for the developing countries.

They also discussed other pressing problems affecting the region at these meetings, such as the avian flu, handling natural disasters, the battle against corruption and terrorism, and revamping the energy market.

Finally, the issuing of the Special Declaration on Global Trade had a positive impact on these talks and on the breakthroughs made at the WTO Ministerial Conference in Hong Kong.


T.D.L.: While Seoul and Washington don’t see eye to eye on the issue of North Korea, the US-Korea partnership remains strong, as witnessed by the opening of negotiations on a free-trade agreement. How would this accord help the Korean economy? Do you think the drop in the number of US military forces in South Korea will help quell the anti-American sentiment that has been brewing there in recent years?


H.E.J.C-K.: As you underlined, Seoul and Washington have maintained strong ties, despite our diverging stands on the North Korean nuclear problem. Our shared desire to open negotiations on a free trade agreement is testimony to the strength of this partnership. Gaining access to the US market would obviously be a big boost for the Korean economy, especially for our high-tech products. All the more so, as our country is looking to become a key trade hub in Northeast Asia.

The cut back in US military personnel on Korean soil is moving steadily forward. The anti-American feelings displayed by young Koreans has died down over time, I may add, with the revision of the status of US forces in Korea.


T.D.L.: Your country deployed 3,600 troops to Iraq, comprising the third largest military force in the “volunteer coalition.” One-third of Korea’s troops are set to be withdrawn this year. How would you assess the current situation in Iraq? Looking back, how do you feel about your country’s involvement in this conflict?


H.E.J.C-K.: Korean troops were sent into Arbil, Iraq, in August 2004, to provide humanitarian assistance and to help right the country’s economy.

Our armed forces will gradually be withdrawn over the course of 2006. They will have made a concrete contribution to maintaining order, helping Iraq develop, and bringing peace to the region. Like the United States, Great Britain, and other foreign forces that have chosen to withdraw or to reduce their military numbers, pulling out some of our soldiers is an inevitable move.

We deplore the fact that Iraq has not regained political stability. Iraq still has a long road ahead of it, and we hope to see calm restored in this country as quickly as possible.


T.D.L.: Last January, South Korea and the European Union sealed an agreement that will allow your country to participate in the Galileo program. In what other areas are the EU and Korea cooperating, apart from the high-tech sector? Do you think the European Union has a role to play in Asian political and security issues?


H.E.J.C-K.: Korea has, indeed, signed an agreement that will make it part of the Galileo program. We also recently signed an agreement for scientific and technological cooperation. As the EU’s third partner in Asia, Korea is forging close ties with Europe and hopes to seal a free trade agreement with the EU in the near future. The EU offers Korean businesses a vast space for expanding their commercial activities and investments. Its wide investment potential interests our country greatly. What’s more, a framework agreement for trade and cooperation between Korea and the EU is already in effect. This accord could serve as the foundation for expanding ties between Korea and the EU in a variety of arenas, such as the economy, trade, industry, sciences, technology, and culture.

The EU also continues to support our efforts to resolve the North Korean nuclear problem. It took part in the KEDO (Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization) program, playing a highly positive role in fostering peace and security in Asia.
The European integration experience still serves as an example for the countries of East Asia, who want to push forward with their own regionalization process. We hope, for instance, to eventually set up an oversight and cooperation body for regional security, along the lines of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe).
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