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Interview with H.E. Ambassador of the Republic of Korea, Ahn Young-Jip

While firmly adhering to the principle of denuclearisation, the Republic of Korea will remain open to dialogue and induce changes on the part of North Korea. We have been constant in our efforts to bring changes in North Korea’s strategic calculus and to build a genuine and sustainable peace on the Peninsula…

ROK is to build trust by accumulating practices of dialogue and cooperation in non-traditional soft security areas.

NAPCI has been welcomed by neighbouring countries… and is becoming an effective tool for cooperation in the region.”

 

KOS_4111GDL: What are the main aspects of the foreign policy of the ROK, and particularly regional?

AYJ: The Government of President Park Geun-hye pursues ‘Trust Diplomacy (Trustpolitik)’ as a basic tenet of its foreign policy. Trustpolitik seeks to bring changes on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia by moving beyond mistrust and confrontation towards trust and cooperation. On the Korean Peninsula the Trustpolitik has been put into practice in the form of the Trust-Building Process on both sides of the Peninsula, and in Northeast Asia it has taken the form of the Northeast Asia Peace and Cooperation Initiative.

The Trust-Building Process on the Korean Peninsula strives to safeguard peace by means of establishing a strong deterrence that does not tolerate armed provocations posed by North Korea, as well as encouraging the North to take the path of trust to reach enduring peace. While firmly adhering to the principle of denuclearisation, the Republic of Korea will remain open to dialogue and induce changes on the part of North Korea. We have been constant in our efforts to bring changes in North Korea’s strategic calculus and to build a genuine and sustainable peace on the Peninsula.

Within the same context, Republic of Korea is endeavouring to set the ‘Northeast Asia Peace and Cooperation Initiative’ (NAPCI) in motion as a process for multilateral cooperation in this region. More specifically, ROK is to build trust by accumulating practices of dialogue and cooperation in non-traditional soft security areas. NAPCI has been welcomed by neighbouring countries, including the United States of America, China and Russia and is becoming an effective tool for cooperation in the region.


GDL: What are the immediate challenges that your country faces and what are the Government priorities in order to maintain a delicate position between regional rivalries to stabilise the Korean Peninsula?

AYJ: The most crucial diplomatic challenge we are facing now is dealing with North Korea in the wake of its fourth nuclear test and its repeated ballistic missile launches earlier this year.
The international community is taking a firm and united response against these provocations, as demonstrated by the most robust sanctions ever by the UN Security Council against North Korea, as well as sanctions by the Republic of Korea, the United States of America, the European Union and others. Now, it is crucial that these sanctions be fully and thoroughly implemented, in order to deter North Korea’s additional provocations and change its strategic calculations. To this end, we have been working closely with our American allies, as well as with China and Japan, both bilaterally and trilaterally.

“The most crucial diplomatic challenge we are facing now is dealing with North Korea in the wake of its fourth nuclear test and its repeated ballistic missile launches earlier this year. 

The international community is taking a firm and united response against these provocations, as demonstrated by the most robust sanctions ever… it is crucial that these sanctions be fully and thoroughly implemented, in order to deter North Korea’s additional provocations and change its strategic calculations. ”

south_korea_flag_map_by_britannialoyalist-d8wv82bGDL: 2016 is proving to be an important year for South Korea’s global diplomatic strategy, with President Park Geun-hye forging ahead with the summit diplomacy agenda prioritising key partners in each continent. Do you foresee that this active networking will make ROK a significant international player?

AYJ: Since its inauguration, the Park Geun-hye administration has adopted the role as a ‘responsible middle power country in the international community’ as one of Government objectives and exerted various efforts to achieve this. The Korean people recognise that playing a valuable role in the global governance of development cooperation, climate change, PKO, humanitarian assistance and health care, is a way to pay back for the support we received from the international community in the process of our own development.

To perform ‘middle power diplomacy’ effectively, the Korean Government has vigorously expanded its multi-layered diplomatic networks in cooperation with various global partners. The Park Geun-hye administration has established MIKTA, a middle power consultative body composed of Mexico, Indonesia, Korea, Turkey and Australia. The Korean Government also established regional consultative networks with eight regional consultative bodies including the Nordic and Visegrad Group (V4).

Korea is also focusing on ‘humanitarian diplomacy’. For instance, we dispatched a medical team during the Ebola crisis. Providing humanitarian assistance to those in need, including refugees, is an important part of this.

“The economic slowdown in China and other emerging economies, combined with financial market instability in major economies, have brought a high level of uncertainty to the global economy. Under these circumstances, the Korean Government renews its effort to build up growth momentum and place its priority on job creation by boosting investment… In preparation for the future, the Korean Government is focusing on industrial innovation to develop new growth engines… We strongly believe that a crisis produces opportunities and real changes.”

GDL: Weak global demand and low commodity prices have hit Korean exports. How does your Government plan to counterbalance this?

AYJ: The economic slowdown in China and other emerging economies, combined with financial market instability in major economies, have brought a high level of uncertainty to the global economy. Under these circumstances, the Korean Government renews its effort to build up growth momentum and place its priority on job creation by boosting investment. This year, we launched a plan to front-load public sector spending through which we set up an investment promotion fund and increased incentives in the facility investment and R&D expenditures. We also established a comprehensive ‘service economy development strategy’ to invigorate economic activities in promising areas such as tourism, sports, cultural contents, healthcare and finance.

Regarding export growth, Korea still ranks fourth among the world’s major exporters and Korean products have been increasing their market share in the global market. Recently, we have seen more positive developments; Free Trade Agreements with China, Vietnam and New Zealand became effective last year. These trade deals together with the existing Korea-US, Korea-EU FTAs are expected to contribute to our export growth.

Facing the volatility of world economies, my Government is to cultivate Korea’s growth potential by accelerating structural reform. Banks are conducting pre-emptive restructuring on individual companies that are under financial distress, based on their on-going credit risk assessment. The Government is also encouraging businesses to undertake a voluntary restructuring in various sectors to enhance their competitiveness.

In preparation for the future, the Korean Government is focusing on industrial innovation to develop new growth engines. Part of this effort includes promoting convergence and integration between industries, as well as nurturing new energy industries. The Government is also focusing on developing human capital. We will develop a competent workforce and promote labour market participation of women and young adults. Increasing the birth rate and attracting more foreign talents are also important. We strongly believe that a crisis produces opportunities and real changes.

“To perform ‘middle power diplomacy’ effectively, the Korean Government has vigorously expanded its multi-layered diplomatic networks in cooperation with various global partners… Korea is also focusing on ‘humanitarian diplomacy’. Providing humanitarian assistance to those in need, including refugees, is an important part of this.”

Flag_of_South_KoreaGDL: Is Korea keeping a close watch on the American Presidential elections?

AYJ: Like many other countries, Korea is keeping an eye on the US Presidential elections. As the candidates’ positions on domestic and external affairs can influence the next administration’s foreign policy, we are following the election process. As allies, we hope to continuously strengthen our strong partnership with the new US Administration.

GDL: What is Korea doing to rectify the alarming situation of low fertility?

AYJ: The fertility rate of the Republic of Korea is 1.18 children per female these days. It is one of the lowest fertility rates in the world. There seems to be several reasons for this demographic phenomenon: younger generations are more focused on getting a secure job in a competitive society and marry very late; the cost of child care and education remains very high; and the burden on women has been amplified as their participation in the workforce increased while the support from big families declined.

Under the circumstances, the Korean Government has introduced several policy measures; creating new jobs, strengthening vocational education, subsidising multi-child families, giving tax favours to child-rearing parents, expanding nurseries and childcare facilities, softening several immigration rules and regulations, etc. Some local governments are even arranging a series of match making events for young people. We hope that such policy mixes will improve the population imbalance and change the current demographic trend.

“The beautiful islands in the Aegean and Ionian Seas, historical and archaeological sites in the countryside have already become popular destinations for many Korean tourists. A Korean soap opera filmed in the Greek island of Zakinthos, which aired in February, has brought many tourists from Korea, China and other parts of Asia.”

GDL: Both Greece and Korea have a long-standing commitment to work together in various fields. What ways are you seeking in order to further boost trade and investment together with the Hellenic Republic?

AYJ: First of all, our two countries have maintained mutually beneficial cooperation in the shipping and shipbuilding industries for a very long time. Today we endeavour to expand our cooperation into many other areas. Recently, several Korean retailers visited Greece to seek out appropriate agricultural products for import. High quality Greek wine, olive oil and yogurt have great potential in the Korean market.  Bilateral discussions on the export of mastiha products from Chios to Korea have already begun.

The beautiful islands in the Aegean and Ionian Seas, historical and archaeological sites in the countryside have already become popular destinations for many Korean tourists. A Korean soap opera filmed in the Greek island of Zakinthos, which aired in February, has brought many tourists from Korea, China and other parts of Asia.

Korea incidentally provided passenger trains to the Athens Metro and the e-ticketing system in the metro is currently under construction by a Korean company. Some Korean business people are interested in the privatisation plan of Greece and are probing the possibilities of investment, whilst cooperation in the fields of energy and the environment also possess bright prospects to the benefit of our two countries.

GDL: Both countries are grasping the importance of strengthening the mutual cooperation and understanding through cultural exchanges. Please can you tell us more about your Embassy initiatives?

AYJ: My Embassy places great importance in upgrading cultural exchanges between our two countries. This year, the exhibition of Korean calligraphy and paintings was held in Athens. Korean Film Week was inaugurated both in Athens and Thessaloniki in April and May respectively with great success, which will be brought to Irakleio in Crete in the latter half of this year.

My Embassy continuously participates in the Helexpo Thessaloniki International Book Fair as a way of intellectual exchange. We hold a K-pop festival and competition event every year in Greece, whilst the well-known Korean Soprano singer Sumi Jo will come to Nafplio in July to teach Greek music students and a plan to bring a Korean orchestra to Greece is also underway. The Embassy is also using various opportunities to introduce Korean food to the Greek people.

GDL: Your Excellency, can you give us your first impressions upon arriving in Greece?

AYJ: Greece is the birthplace of western civilization. From childhood, we have learned about the fertile Greek culture and civilization through mythology, history, philosophy, music and the arts. After seven months living in this marvellous country, I found that those lessons on Greece were true to their names.

It is my great privilege to experience so much history in my everyday life here in Greece. In addition, I was moved by the superb natural landscape of this country. You have so many beautiful islands, serene mountains and sea shores. And last, but not least, I found that Greek people are very kind and hospitable. You have warm hearts by nature and I fully appreciate your open mindedness.

 

Interview by Nicolas Boutsicos
Editor, Greek Diplomatic Life

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