H.E. Hyoung-chan Choe: High Potential for Cooperation

Korea’s investment in Serbia is expanding not only in terms of its volume, but also in terms of its scope

Last year was 30 years since the establishment of bilateral relations between our two countries. “1989 is the very first year when the Korean Government took its first step to establish diplomatic relations with East European countries after the emergence of new détente on the occasion of the fall of the Berlin wall. Serbia, back then Yugoslavia, was one of the first countries with which Korea established bilateral ties in this region. Since then, the two countries have achieved significant development of bilateral relations in various fields, which we can be very much proud of” says at the beginning of the interview H.E. Hyoung-chan Choe, Korean Ambassador to Serbia.

Are you satisfied with the bilateral cooperation so far?

— Firstly, we have seen a clear upward trend in high-level exchanges. Last June, Foreign Minister of the Republic of Korea visited Serbia for the first time in 29 years. In October, on the occasion of the 141st IPU assembly, the Speaker of the Korean National Assembly made an official visit to Serbia. It was reciprocated in December by the visit of the Speaker of the Parliament of Serbia, Madam Gojkovic, which was highly meaningful as it was the first-ever visit by a Serbian Speaker of the National Assembly to Korea. They took those opportunities to comprehensively review the current status of bilateral relations and share views on future development of friendship between our peoples and governments. Secondly, high potential for economic cooperation has been proved. Korea’s investment in Serbia is expanding not only in terms of its volume, but also in terms of its scope. Since Korea’s firstinvestment in Serbia in 11 years ago, number of Korean companies investing in Serbia or planning to invest has significantly increased in various areas encompassing magnet wires, industrial gloves, and waste management facilities. I firmly believe that these investments have contributed to steady economic growth of Serbia. Last but not least, cultural exchanges have also been expanding. Introducing Korean culture in Serbia and enhancing mutual understanding is a key mission of the Korean Embassy. With such aim, we have been putting our best efforts in organizing a variety of cultural events where people from Korea and Serbia can actively interact. Last year was even more special since we celebrated the 30th anniversary of our diplomatic relations. Throughout the year, we presented various events including unique performances of Korean traditional dance and traditional music. The Serbian national anthem played with Korean traditional musical instruments was greatly welcomed with loud applause. A group of masters of Korean martial art, Taekwondo, demonstrated jumping and spinning kicks with high speed and agility, which in particular fascinated Serbian children and young trainees of martial arts. We also had K-pop festival, K-food, K-beauty, K-movie,
Korean language events. Based on such achievements, our journey together with Serbia for the cherished friendship and co-prosperity will continue in the next 30 years and beyond.

You have been an ambassador to Serbia for a year. What have you witnessed and what have you found for further cooperation between the two countries?

— It was a great privilege and pleasure for me to be a part of the process of dynamic transformation of Serbian society in its European path during my first year. I have seen positive energy directed to further advancement and better life of people. At the same time, I have also witnessed that while Serbia is doing its best to reform, there are rooms for further promotion of rule of law and freedom of media together with economic development in its path towards EU. However, Serbia is not the only country that has faced or is facing such challenges. Korea used to be one of the poorest countries in the world. From the ruins of war, however,Korea has become the world’s 11th largest economy, which has global tech companies such as Samsung, LG, Hyundai, and SK. These companies are leaders in the fields of semi-conductors, 5G, shipbuilding, and so on. Korea has also strengthened a democratic society over the past decades. To support Serbia’s path to EU, Korean government has been in close cooperation with Serbian government especially in areas where we have comparative strength and experiences based on our trials and errors. We believe that the digitalization and E-government can bring along multiple benefits such as more efficient public service, enhanced transparency and reduction of business costs.

How would you assess the situation in your country today and the situation on the Korean Peninsula in general?

— Last year, we have seen remarkable steps that will go down the history of peace on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia. The leaders of two Koreas met three times and the first ever U.S.-DPRK summit was held in Singapore soon followed by the second summit in Vietnam. President Trump and Chairman Kim met for the third time even at the DMZ. However, everlasting peace and stability cannot be achieved by only a couple of meetings. Our goal is to achieve complete denuclearization and permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula. In the course of resolving these issues, the principles that the Korean Government has firmly held on to remain unchanged. The first principle is zero tolerance for war. Korea is still in a state of armistice. With a firm conviction that the tragedy of war should never be repeated on the Korean Peninsula, we will exert our best efforts to put an end to the longest-running armisitice in human history and achieve a complete end to the War. The second is mutual security guarantee between South and North Korea. All hostile acts must be put on hold while the dialogue is ongoing. Third one is co-prosperity. We don’t simply pursue a state that is absence of conflict. Peace that we are dreaming of is a state where mutual inclusiveness and interdependence are enhanced, on which we can build up “peace economy” and co-prosperity. Peace and economic cooperation will work in a virtuous cycle reinforcing each other. The examples of how the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) contributed to peace and prosperity of Europe present a desirable model for us to emulate.

The Korean Government will stay committed to the above mentioned principles as peace and progress on the Korean Peninsula can only be created through continued dialogue. Both the Korean and Balkan Peninsula have experienced divisionsfor long periods of time. What do you think Korea and Serbia can do to promote peace and prosperity in each region?

— Despite the geographical distances, it is not hard to find similarities between Korea and Serbia, especially in terms of historical experiences and geopolitical circumstances. Since Serbia and Korea have long been situated among strong powers, we had to face neighboring countries’ invasions and occupations. Now, we share similar mission to pursuepeace, stability and prosperity of the region with the involvement of countries concerned. As I mentioned earlier, the Republic of Korea intends to open a new era of peace economy where peace will be a new growth engine for economy, which in turn, will reinforcepeace. Based on solid partnership with neighbors, the economic playground of Korea will be expanded as far as Russia and Europe northwards, and as far as ASEAN and India southwards. To this end, the Korean government is pursuing the New Northern Policy and the New Southern Policy at the same time to play a bridging role among countries in the Eurasian continentand the Pacific Ocean. I believe that Serbia will play a central role in connecting countries in the Balkan region and beyond to bring along not only peace and stability, but also economic prosperity.

Many Korean companies operate in Serbia. Are you satisfied with the economic cooperation between our two countries? Is there room for more progress?

— It is evident that increasing number of Korean companies are expressing interests for new investment opportunities in Serbia. Yura Corporation, the oldest and biggest Korean investor in Serbia, is successfully operating 5 factories with more than 7,000 local employees in Rača, Leskovac and Niš; Superior Essex, subsidiary of the LS group opened its first factory in Zrenjanin last year with the presence of President Vucic to the groundbreaking and building completion ceremony; Elias Eco, is exploring a new business in the field of eco-friendly industrial waste management facility; Auntex is planning to launch its production of industrial gloves in Serbia; and Hankook Tire, the biggest tire company in Korea, opened its marketing branch in Belgrade. However, we don’t see Serbia simply as a destination for investment or market where we can reap economic benefits. We see Serbia as a promising partner for co-prosperity. In pursuing future oriented partnership, there are rooms for further economic cooperation. In particular, while IT and E-government will continue to be the focus of our cooperation, beauty and cosmetic industry could be new areas of cooperation in coming years.


How interested are South Korean tourists in Serbia and vice versa?

— Tourism definitely is the area where we can work harder to achieve more. The number of Korean people visiting Serbia and vice versa is yet modest compared to other European countries. Less than 10,000 Korean tourists visit Serbia annually, which means, if we see it from a different angle, there is a big room for increase. It would be necessary to promote the beauty of Serbia as much as possible as Serbia, located geographically far away, is not yet a widely known tourist attraction for Koreans. I sincerely hope to see an increasing exchange exchange of people including tourists in the near future as people-to-people exchange is one of the best ways to enhance mutual understanding between the two countries whose language, culture, and way of thinking are not the same.

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