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Natural partners

Released at: 11:27, 10/10/2016

Natural partners

Photo: Viet Tuan

Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to Vietnam, H.E. Lee Hyuk, delves deeper into the relationship between the two countries.

From being a poor country damaged by war, in just half a century the Republic of Korea has become one of the most developed economies in the world with great prestige and a leading international profile. What factors lie behind this economic miracle?

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, when Korea began its reconstruction efforts following the Korean War, the country was one of the poorest in the world, with few natural resources, a limited land area, and a modest population. Moreover, the country constantly faced a clear and present security threat from North Korea. In this sense, Korea was never “naturally” affluent but this also meant that we had nothing to lose. 

Against this backdrop, the Korean Government initiated a series of ambitious economic development plans and did its utmost to ensure that these plans were fully and effectively implemented. These bold steps, together with the dedication and hard work of the government and the Korean people, bore fruit, and within a generation Korea rose from the ashes of war to become one of the most competitive economies in the world, which is well known as the “Miracle of the Han River”.

This remarkable accomplishment, as miraculous as it may be, was not the result of just good fortune but an outcome of a combination of proper planning by the government, vision and entrepreneurship by business leaders, and the hard work and perseverance of the people. If I was asked to choose the single most important factor behind Korea’s success, it would have to be its people - their industriousness, limitless passion for learning, and a can-do spirit - that transformed Korea into today’s dynamic and flourishing country. 

Next year Vietnam and Korea will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations on December 22, 1992. What is your view of relations during this time and what may the relationship hold in the next 25 years?

It has been a remarkable 24-year partnership between Vietnam and Korea. Today, Korea is Vietnam’s largest investor, second-largest bilateral development partner, and third-largest trading partner, while Vietnam is Korea’s fourth-largest trading partner. Bilateral trade is expected to grow with the Korea-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement coming into effect in December last year, and I am certain that we will easily reach the target of $70 billion by 2020. 

This relationship goes beyond economic exchange and currently there are over 130,000 Vietnamese and Koreans living in each other’s country. I don’t think anybody could have imagined our partnership would grow so close and so fast when we established diplomatic relations back in 1992. 

The similarities shared by our two peoples, I believe, are one of the main driving forces behind our fast-growing ties. We not only look alike, but we also share the same values of life, family and education, among others. This striking resemblance has allowed our peoples to better understand and feel comfortable with each other, as well as easily relate to each other’s circumstances. In a nutshell, we are “natural partners”.

As such, we are naturally drawn to each other and in this regard I see a bright future in our bilateral ties over the next 25 years. Based on our steadfast friendship, mutually reinforcing economies, and vibrant people-to-people exchanges, I am sure we will see our relations growing both in depth and in breadth as we further strengthen our strategic cooperative partnership.

Vietnamese people have long held a deep affection towards the Korean people. What are your thoughts and plans as you begin your Ambassadorship in Vietnam especially given the marking of a quarter-century of diplomatic relations?

Since I arrived in Hanoi in May this year I have been amazed at the similarities between Korea and Vietnam. If our two peoples took a DNA test I believe it would show that we are connected in some way or another. 

So it is not only the Vietnamese that have been attracted to us Koreans, as we Koreans have also always felt very close to Vietnamese. The 140,000 Koreans living in Vietnam attest to this affection. And, just as the Korean cultural wave has thrived here in Vietnam, with Korean dramas, films, and K-Pop being loved by many Vietnamese people, likewise there is huge potential for Vietnamese cuisine and pop culture to be equally loved in Korea. The sharing and exchange of our arts and artists will not only promote our ties but also further enrich both our cultures.

As Ambassador, one of my priorities is to make the next quarter-century of our relationship as sustainable and prosperous as today. To this end I will spare no effort to further expand the horizons of our partnership. Indeed, while there have been remarkable developments in bilateral ties between Korea and Vietnam there still is room for further cooperation in the areas of security, climate change, good governance, and socioeconomic development, and I wish to tap into every potential area of cooperation to make our strategic cooperative partnership even more comprehensive and extensive.

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