Lundi 22 Avril 2019  

N°124 - Quatrième trimestre 2018

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  S.E.M. / H.E. Jang Jai-ryong

Tightening South Korea’s Ties with the International Community

Though facing an uneasy situation on the global stage, the Republic of Korea has a sound economy and highly strategic location, allowing the country’s new President Roh Moo-hyun several important chances. H.E. Jang Jai-ryong, the Ambassador of South Korea to France, speaks of his perspectives on the progress of the peace process on the Korean peninsula and the development of international cooperation.

The Diplomatic Letter: Mr. Ambassador: Since being voted into office in December 2002, President Roh Moo-hyun has had to grapple with the defeat of his party (the MDP) in the August 2002 by-election, as well as an uneasy international situation. Could you draw the broadlines of President Roh Muh-hyun’s agenda for our readers, and describe the means he will put into action to achieve those objectives?

H.E. Jang Jai-ryong: President Roh Moo-hyun’s government is pursuing an agenda that targets several key objectives: building lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula; making Korea a driving force in the Northeast Asian economy; establishing a well-ordered market economy that is both free and fair; improving social services and our citizens’ overall quality of life; promoting greater unity and cohesion among the Korean people; and ensuring equal rights for women.
In view of the extremely uneasy political situation on the Peninsula these days, the Korean government will also lay great emphasis on strengthening its ties with the region’s key countries and with the international community as a whole, with the aim of resolving the North Korean nuclear crisis.
Enhancing dialogue and cooperation between the two Koreas, in order to build greater mutual trust, remains one of the government’s top priorities.

T.D.L.: South Korea weathered the 2001 economic slowdown better than any of its Asian neighbors. The climate has been optimistic since April 2002, when Korean authorities revised the expected growth rate upwards. Could this be clouded by the continued softening of world demand, and the debt problems faced by several large Korean groups? How is the Korean government planning to counter the jump in oil prices, given the country’s rising inflation rate, which hit 3.7% in 2002?

H.E.J.J.R.: Korea proved the fundamental soundness of its economy in 2002, posting an annual growth rate above 6% and bringing inflation to under 3%, despite the extremely unstable situation on the international stage. The current geopolitical and economic instability – exemplified by the impending war on Iraq and the global economic slowdown – weighs heavily on Korea, as its economy is very dependent on the foreign sector. This explains why Korea’s growth rate will be slightly lower this year than last, hovering around 5% for 2003. Yet I hardly think a 5% growth rate could be called weak, especially when compared to the results in certain other countries.
I do not think the indebtedness of large Korean companies will have much of an impact on Korea’s economic growth. These big groups have been working very hard at restructuring since the 1997-1998 financial crisis, laying special focus on stabilizing their financial framework.
The price of oil is indeed on the rise, due to the looming war against Iraq. The Korean government will do whatever is necessary to work its way through this situation. It could launch measures to save energy, for instance, or widen its pool of oil suppliers.

T.D.L.: The historic summit held in Pyongyang in June 2000 was a crowning achievement for the “Sunshine Policy” launched by President Kim Dae-jung, reopening the dialogue between the two Koreas. Could you describe the basic principles behind an eventual reconciliation between the two Koreas? Now that North Korea has resumed its nuclear arms program, how do you see the ensuing crisis unfolding? What can South Korea do to help bring this problem to a prompt end? Is the crisis as serious as the U.S. and Europe would have us believe? What do you think of the initiative put forward by Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi during his visit to Pyongyang on 17 September 2002?

H.E.J.J.R.: Our government’s policy towards North Korea has been steered by the following three principles: not tolerating any military attacks that threaten peace on the Peninsula; lobbying actively for reconciliation and cooperation between the two Koreas; not permitting a unilateral reunification, with one country taking over the other.
In his inaugural address, on 25 February 2002, our new President Mr. Roh said he would continue developing a more open relationship with North Korea, an absolutely vital step towards ensuring peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula. He said he would do this by focusing on four main areas: using dialogue to solve problems; working hand-in-hand with the North Koreans, building mutual trust; welcoming the international community’s assistance, while still playing a key role in the drive to find a solution; and finally, getting the Korean people more closely involved, and promoting cooperation that blurs party lines.
As for the problem of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal, we are continuing discussions with the concerned countries at both the bilateral and multilateral level, in attempt to resolve this situation through diplomatic means.
Korea is trying to convince North Korea to respect its commitment to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, within the framework of its ongoing dialogue with this nation. Meanwhile, the ROK is serving as a mediator between the United States and North Korea, with the aim of eventually launching new talks.
The Japanese Prime Minister’s visit to Pyongyang was very important, in that it led to the first summit between Japan and North Korea, which in turn led to the launching of initial talks aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the two countries. The warming in relations between Japan and North Korea has also helped to allay the uneasiness over security concerns in Northeast Asia.

T.D.L.: Could you outline South Korea’s top foreign policy goals for our readers, outside the reunification of the two Koreas? In light of the nomination of Mr. Jong-Wook Lee to be the new Director-General of the World Health Organization on 28 January 2003, could you describe your country’s role in the principal international bodies?

H.E.J.J.R.: Our government’s diplomatic policy can be divided into five target areas. Firstly, as you well imagine, our top priority is maintaining peace on the Korean Peninsula by mending our ties and cooperating with North Korea. We plan on playing an active role on the world stage as well. We will work with the international community to solve a variety of problems, such as cutting back armed forces, ensuring the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons, and reducing international crime, which threatens the universal values revered by the world’s citizens, democracy and human rights in particular.
In the economic arena, we are closely involved in DDA negotiations, helping to set up a trade system that will bolster economic ties between the developed and the developing countries. We are also working through international organizations such as ASEM, APEC, ASEAN+ 3, and ARF, making all efforts in our power to strengthen ties in a variety of areas, not only inside Asia but in other parts of the world as well, such as Europe.
Through its efforts on the international stage, the government is helping to improve living conditions in developing countries. The most notable example of this is an increase in the aid Korea sets aside for these countries.
Mr. Jong-Wook Lee’s nomination for the post of Director-General of the World Health Organization is extremely encouraging. It is an acknowledgment not only of Mr. Lee’s great skills, but also of our country’s highly valuable role in international bodies. Our government would like to step up to play an even stronger role in these organizations, a role that reflects Korea’s true place in the international community.

T.D.L.: South Korea’s new President, Roh Moo-hyun, has said he does not want to change the nature of the American-Korean alliance, but would like to reconsider the status of American forces in Korea. Could you expound a little on this new stance, and share your thoughts on the recent anti-American demonstrations in South Korea?

H.E.J.J.R.: The status of American army forces stationed in Korea is an issue currently under discussion. Our goal is to maintain a climate favorable to the continued presence of these troops, by improving the terms of the Status of Forces Agreement reached between Korea and the United States, and by reinforcing the solid coalition our two countries have managed to build. We are looking to further strengthen our alliance with the United States, by working together extremely closely in these talks.
Some see recent demonstrations and our request to review the SOFA as signs of the Korean people’s growing hostility towards the United States. The anti-American backlash was inspired, above all else, by the tragic and accidental death of two schoolgirls. This interpretation of things has little to do with actual fact. The demonstrations, as well as our request to revise SOFA, are signs of the Korean people’s desire to see relations between our two countries evolve in order to strengthen even further. They do not reflect – on any count – a desire to end our coalition with the United States.

T.D.L.: South Korea and Japan were the co-hosts of the 2002 World Soccer Cup, offering concrete proof of the friendly ties between the two countries. Can you envision your countries working together more closely to enhance mutual understanding? The flow of South Korea’s regional trade has changed significantly in recent years, shifting towards China. Will this trend become even more pronounced in coming years, with the gradual opening up of the Chinese economy?

H.E.J.J.R.: Korea and Japan are building friendly ties and enhancing mutual cooperation based on the “Joint Declaration on the New ROK-Japan Partnership for the 21st Century”, and the “modes of action” laid out backstage at the 1998 summit. These efforts target a wide variety of areas, starting with the political, economic and cultural arenas.
Our two countries are working very hard to build a constructive relationship over the coming years, with a correct perception of the history between our two countries. These efforts have been very fruitful, most notably in enabling us to co-host the 2002 World Cup, as well as an event called “The Year of Japan-ROK National Exchange”.
Meanwhile, trade and mutual investments between Korea and China have continued to expand. China is now our first client, as well as the leading recipient of Korean foreign direct investment. I think that the continued growth of Sino-Korean economic ties will be of great help in opening the Chinese market. That said, China will have to be opened up very gradually.

T.D.L.: At the August 2002 ASEAN Ministerial Summit, Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Choi Sung-hong underscored the importance of your country’s free trade agreements in the international economic context. Have there been any new developments in this area with Japan? How do you feel about the idea of creating a regional trade grouping in East Asia? Korea signed a free trade agreement with Chile that will come into effect in the second quarter of 2003. Is your country looking to build closer trade ties with Latin America?

H.E.J.J.R.: Not only is Japan our second trade partner, it also lies very close to Korea. As early as 1998 our government began studying the possibility of signing a trade agreement with Japan with the aim of promoting our mutual interests in the economic and trade arenas. All concrete talks on this issue are being conducted within the scope of the Korea-Japan FTA Joint Study Group, created after the signing of a presidential accord during the Korea-Japan summit in March 2002.
It will, of course, take us quite a bit more time to reach a final and exhaustive agreement. This initiative has an extremely ambitious goal: laying out a free trade agreement that is at once far-reaching, in terms of its areas of application, and deep-reaching, in terms of its implementation. In addition to the agricultural sector, we will tackle nearly every industrial sector, as well as trade issues such as tariff and non-tariff barriers and the various trade regulations.
In the early 1990s, as trade and mutual investments between the countries of Southeast Asia began to mushroom, it became clear that these countries needed to establish some kind of formal cooperation. The regional cooperation debate has grown all the more lively since the financial crisis of 1997-1998. But building a regional community, like the European Union, is no easy task. In light of the wide difference in the economic weight and level of industrial development of the various countries in Southeast Asia, it would be best to start moving towards the community model very gradually over the next few years, focusing on areas where we can cooperate very actively right now.
Korea had yet to sign a free trade agreement at the time, and public support for a Southeast Asia FTA was still very weak. For our first free trade agreement, we needed to find a medium-sized country with an industrial complex that meshed well with our own. What’s more, the advantages of this free trade agreement had to be obvious to all. That is how Chile came to be our first free trade partner, though the Korean initiative did not initially target Latin America.

T.D.L.: On 23 August 2001 Korea made the final payment on an IMF loan granted back in 1997. In hindsight, what do you think about the way the IMF dealt with the financial crisis that hit Asia in 1997-1998? Do you agree with the experts and private sector analysts who have roundly criticized the IMF’s handling of the crisis?

H.E.J.J.R.: There is a wide range of contrasting opinions on the IMF’s crisis management abilities. Notwithstanding, it simply cannot be denied that the IMF was of great help in assisting Korea pull through this financial crisis.

T.D.L.: The fourth ASEM (Asia-Europe Meeting) Summit, held 22-24 September 2002 in Copenhagen, focused on the fight against terrorism and the drive to strengthen economic ties between Europe and Asia. Could you describe the campaign to wipe out terrorism in Asia for our readers, and tell them what has been done to reinforce ties between Europe and Asia? How do you feel about the European Union’s involvement, as a full-fledged member, in the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO)?

H.E.J.J.R.: At the fourth ASEM summit, held in September 2002 in Copenhagen, participating countries unanimously approved the “Declaration on Cooperation against International Terrorism,” with the aim of showing their firm intention to step up antiterrorism cooperation within ASEM, and their strong desire to work hand-in-hand to fight international terrorism.
At the summit, Mr. Kim Dae-jung, the President of Korea at that time, underscored the fact that the problem of poverty is the real root of religious, cultural and racial conflicts. He put forward concrete proposals for battling poverty, permitting us to get to the root and thus resolve the problem of terrorism.
Asia and Europe have stepped up their cooperation considerably in the years since the Cold War came to an end, especially by working through active regional movements.
Both continents have become keenly aware of the growing need for exchanges and cooperation, which have been relatively weak in the past. Asia and Europe have decided to strengthen their elations in a wide range of areas, building real mutual cooperation in the political, economic, cultural, and even academic arenas, most notably alongside ASEM.
Korea is currently involved in a variety of cooperation programs. A few specific examples include the project to build a high-speed Eurasian telecommunications network, and the ASEM-DUO fellowship program.
The EU’s involvement in KEDO offers clear proof that the issue of North Korea’s nuclear program must be addressed at both the regional and global levels. The entire international community must give this problem its full attention, and help to resolve it. The EU is active not only in KEDO, but in almost all cooperation projects involving North Korea. It is participating indirectly by establishing diplomatic ties and relaunching a political dialogue with North Korea, as well as furnishing humanitarian aid. The EU is hence playing a very constructive role in helping bring peace to the Korean Peninsula.

T.D.L.: Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Igor Ivanov was in Korea on 26-28 July 2002 to attend the reopening of the Russian Embassy in Seoul, making the first visit to your country by a Russian Foreign Affairs Minister since President Putin took office. In what areas would you like to build even stronger bonds between Russian and Korea?

H.E.J.J.R.: From an economic standpoint, Korean-Russian cooperation is playing a particularly important role in bringing peace and stability to the Korean Peninsula. A project to build production plants in Nahotka is already in the works. In December 2001, Russia and Korea signed the «Rail Link Cooperation Agreement.» Sometime in the near future, our countries will link the Korean Peninsula to Siberia via rail, opening the «era of the Iron Silk Road».
Cooperation between Korea and Russia will be strengthened over the coming years, helping to dismantle the structures set up on the Korean Peninsula during the Cold War and foster the establishment of peace and prosperity throughout all of Northeast Asia.

T.D.L.: Korea is the European Union’s fifth trading partner outside Europe, which views your country as a key player on the international stage. The Framework Agreement for Trade and Cooperation, an accord that focuses primarily on the economic arena, entered into force on 1 April 2001. Could you give us some concrete examples of improvements wrought by this agreement? Could relations between the European Union and Korea be stepped up in other areas as well?

H.E.J.J.R.: The ROK-European Union Framework Agreement, signed in 1996 and put into force in 2001, is the basic foundation on which Korean-EU ties will be built. These ties can be expanded in a wide variety of arenas: economic, trade, industry, science, technology, culture, etc.
I personally would like to see more emphasis put on personal and academic exchanges between journalists, professors and businessmen, as well as between students. This would go a long way towards building mutual trust and heightening mutual understanding.

T.D.L.: Though Franco-Korean economic ties were weakened by the international economic slump in 2001, during a visit to Seoul on 11 January 2003 French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin praised the “remarkable energy over the past two years” of bilateral ties. The Franco-Korean Scientific Technical Joint Committee set to work on 16 September 2002. Was this the first step in exploring new areas of bilateral cooperation? Were the reciprocal “cultural seasons” organized in Paris and Seoul last year a success?

H.E.J.J.R.: At the last meeting of the Joint Committee, it was decided to pinpoint fields of common interest – such as biotechnology, new materials, information and communication technologies, basic sciences – and to begin cooperating in a more concrete fashion in these sectors. We have high hopes of achieving great things.
2002 was a particularly fruitful year for Korean-French cultural exchanges and cooperation. The “French Springtime,” held in Seoul during the first half of the year, presented a global introduction to French culture. In Paris, France’s great artistic sanctuary, Korea was the featured guest at the “Autumn Festival.” Both events drew wide attention. During the Autumn Festival, fifty top-quality performances that showcased both traditional and contemporary Korean culture were presented in the French capital as well as the provinces.
The 2002 World Cup was also an excellent opportunity to heighten the French public’s interest and curiosity about Korean culture. The artistic offerings during the Autumn Festival worked in that same direction, opening the way for a remarkable upsurge in cultural exchanges between Korea and France.
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