H.E. DAE JONG YOO, Ambassador of the Republic of Korea: Ever-Growing Relationship

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Given the similar geopolitical situation, peace and stability in the region have been ultimate goals for both Korean Peninsula and the Balkans throughout the history. Every day we are discovering what we can learn from each other and how we can cooperate in politics, economy and culture

Korea and Serbia are enjoying an ever-growing relationship in all areas ranging from political, economic, cultural cooperation to IT and education, says H.E. Dae Jong YOO, Ambassador of the Republic of Korea. Although the two countries are geographically distant they share some similar paths and may learn from each other a lot. “Today many Korean businesses are discovering Serbia’s potentials and building new ties between our two societies”, adds our interlocutor. But before exploring the mutual relations between our two countries we took the opportunity to speak with Mr. H.E. Dae Jong YOO about the recent developments on the Korean peninsula.

How do you assess the potential impact of the dialogue with the North Korea on security and economic prosperity of the region? What lessons we may draw from the possible positive resolution of this long standing conflict and how they might apply to otherconflict resolutions in general?

Recently, we have witnessed dramatic turnaround in Korean peninsula with a flurry of diplomatic events aimed at securing peace and prosperity in the region. We had two Inter-Korean Summits within one month; Korea-U.S. Summit was held; North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visited China; and now we are waiting for North Korea-United States Summit. In the past 65 years of division, anxiety and fear about our security not only affected the economy and diplomacy but also the daily lives of people in Korea. So the impact of Inter-Korean dialogues will not be limited to political theatre but it will widely spill over to economy and overall lives of Korean people. The “Panmunjeom Declaration” itself not only contains the agreements on denuclearization and alleviations of military tensions but also mentions promoting balanced economic growth and co-prosperity of the whole nation. Once again to quote President Moon’s address, “It will be a whole new beginning.” However, long standing conflict cannot be resolved within a day. Nor can be resolved by one man’s efforts. To ensure that the dialogues between two Koreas bear fruits and to realize our ultimate goal of peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula, close cooperation with the international community is needed more than ever. That is why we are hoping for the success of North Korea-United States summit. Korean government will continue close conversations with all the stakeholders and I hope Serbia as well to be a continued supporter for our journey for peace.

How in that respect you observe the Western Balkans? What the EU accession process may add to the overall security and prosperity in the region?

Given the similar geopolitical situation, peace and stability in theregion have been ultimate goals for both Korean Peninsula and the Balkans throughout the history. All Western Balkans countries are putting their efforts to join the European Union, a component of which deals with overcoming the tensions of the late 20th century. Together with regional peace and stability, accession to EU is prerequisite for the prosperity of the whole region. I believe that Serbia has been firmly on the road to EU accession since the signing of the SAA, and especially after it opened negotiations with the EU. So far, Serbia has opened 12 chapters in the negotiations with the EU, which speaks enough about the direction and commitment of the Government of the Republic of Serbia. In addition, the Government of the Republic of Serbia is actively advocating for regional integration and stability, because it is clear that without it there is no economic progress or new investments, and any instability can only distance Serbia, just like all other countries of the Western Balkans, from European integration.

How do you perceive the impact of the EU accession and the reform processes in Serbia on the further potentials of cooperation between South Korea and Serbia?

Korea has shown a continued support to Serbia’s European path especially in areas where Korea has comparative strength and experiences. Korean government has been in close cooperation with Serbian government on the E-government project which can bring along multiple benefits such as better and more efficient public services, enhanced transparency and reduction of business costs. There are much more potentials for further cooperation between the two countries in many sectors but to list a few, IT, education and environment will be most attractive sectors. Also, Serbia’s accession to EU sends strong and clear signal to investors that Serbia is now a stable and safe place for investments and this has been recognized by South Korea. Therefore, more and more Korean companies are now expressing their interests for investments in Serbia. Yura Corporation, already among the largest employers in Serbia with over 6,000 workers, is now constructing the fifth factory in Leskovac. Also, Superior Essex, an affiliated company of the South Korean renowned LS Group, laid corner stone for the new factory in Zrenjanin worth 30.4 million EUR. This will act as an additional incentive and opportunity for the progress of Serbia by attracting new capital, transferring knowhow and high advanced technology and hiring primarily educated workforce.

In which area do you see the potential for deepening the bilateral relations between our two countries? What the two countries can do to promote further cooperation in IT and Science?

In these days, Korea and Serbia are enjoying an ever-growing relationship in all areas ranging from political, economic, cultural cooperation to IT and education and so on. Among various fields, I believe IT and education are key areas for further deepening our bilateral cooperation. These two areas are not only where Korea has comparative strength and its own experience, but also correspond to Serbian government’s top two priorities. To promote cooperation in IT and science, the two Governments opened Information Access Center (IAC) in the heart of Belgrade last December. IAC, a fully equipped and refurbished IT center, was built with the help of donation worth 250,000 EUR from Korea and now it has proven itself as the very hub for IT education for Serbian people. Based on this, we will continue our active cooperation in IT and digitalization. In the fields of E-government, we have worked on various cooperation projects such as e-archive and e-HR systems and this coming July, Korean Minister for the Interior and Safety, leading a big delegation for cooperation in public administration, will visit Serbia. I am confident that this will be an excellent opportunity for both countries to explore and expand further our cooperation in such field. Cooperation in the area of education is also growing significantly. Serbian Minister of Education, Science and Technological Development visited Korea last year and this year the President of Korea Education & Research Information Service (KERIS) visited Serbia. KERIS will carry out various projects that can contribute to digitalization of education system in Serbia including a consulting on e-learning system and establishment of state-of-the-art ICT classrooms.

Which new areas of economic cooperation have emerged during the recent conference devoted to the ecology?

In May, a delegation composed of 18 members from Ministry of Environment, Korea Environment Industry Association and business sector visited Serbia to further strengthen cooperation in the field of ecology. As Korea also shares the experience of suffering and overcoming the serious environmental problems in the process of economic development, the delegation proposed cooperation in establishing a master plan for environment protection, conducting feasibility study for environment projects, inviting Serbian experts to training programs. Korea and Serbia also agreed to kick off the cooperation by signing an MOU between the two Ministries. During one-onone business meetings, water and waste management system and emission reduction projects on coal-fired power plant have been mainly discussed as possible areas for cooperation.

How would you assess the interest of the South Korean business for Serbian in general? Which sector of the Serbian economy are the most attractive for investors?

High quality labor force, strong support and incentives from the Serbian government, wide FTA network encompassing EU, Russia, Turkey as well as location at the hub for transportation are the main reasons why the Korean businesses are attracted to Serbia. It is true that Serbia was not very well known to Korean business people in the past, but with the production cost in V4 countries constantly increasing, they started to recognize the value of Serbia as a production base for reaching out to other EU countries. CEOs of big and medium-sized Korean companies recently visited Belgrade, Zrenjanin, Pozarevac, and Smederevo to experience in person and evaluate investment opportunities in Serbia for production base in Europe. Furthermore, keeping in mind that Serbia is now in the process of EU accession, Korean business sectors are also highly interested in seeking for various potential opportunities for infrastructure development projects

KOREAN PEOPLE ARE INTERESTED IN BALKAN REGION

How much are South Korean tourists interested for Serbia and vice versa?

The number of Korean people visiting Serbia and vice versa is modest compared to other European countries but we need to focus on the fact that the figure is growing. Serbia is not yet a widely known tourist attraction for Korean people but it is also true that more and more Korean people are interested in Balkan region. Thus, I expect to see continuous increase in exchanges of people from two countries.

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