“2017 will be a breakthrough year for the development of bilateral relations between our two countries.”
The Ambassador of the Republic of Korea in Azerbaijan, Kim Chang-gyu, tells AzerNews aboutKorea-Azerbaijan cooperation, making a particular accent on the ways to develop bilateral cooperation and cultural ties.
Question: Mr. Ambassador, could you, please, highlight about the recent achievements of R.O.K. to upgrade its economy and raise its competitiveness?
Answer: Well, first of all, I wish to note that ROK became the 7th member of the 20-50 club (with the population surpassing 50 million and maintaining per capita income of $20,000) in 2012. ROK rose from the ruins of war (1950- 1953) and achieved remarkable economic growth in a short period of time.
Let me back up the success with more details. ROK is the 11th largest economy, and its export volume reaches the 6th biggest one in the world. It has the world-strongest competitiveness in various fields such as mobile phone, semiconductor, steel, shipbuilding, automobile, bio-technology and petrochemical. We have the highest level of technology in various services such as medical, communication, education and transportation. ROK has built welfare state with strong social infrastructure and efficient e-governance. ROK has ranked the first in the UN e-government survey for three years in a row. Above all, what I am most proud of is kind and talented Korean people. Because they have learned and worked hard, there is today's developed ROK. Korea is a country with a long history and brilliant culture. I hope the citizens of Azerbaijan, an Altaic brother, come and enjoy the Korean culture and beautiful nature.
Q.: What about the development dynamic of the Korea-Azerbaijan relations, that has turned 25 years this year?
A.: In a word, we have making a great progress over the past 25-year-history of our political cooperation. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the diplomatic relations between Korea and Azerbaijan. Our two countries have steadily developed relations in various fields, including politics, economy, and culture. In the political area, we have had three official visits of the Presidents and two visits of the Prime Ministers. Recently, Chairman of the National Assembly of Azerbaijan, Mr. Ogtay Asadov visited ROK and many high-ranking delegations from ROK, including former UN Secretary General Mr. Ban Ki Moon, are scheduled to visit Azerbaijan.
Q.: Given the current progress of the Korea-Azerbaijan economic relations, which priority areas would you distinguish for deepening the interaction?
A.: I wish to point out that the biggest success has been achieved in our economic cooperation. The trade volume between our two countries is very active, with an average of about $250 million over the past several years.
ROK is competitive in every economic and industrial sectors, and Azerbaijan has built up remarkable economy since its independence in 1991. ROK is ready to participate in the efforts of the Azerbaijani people to diversify and develop their industry, and effectively utilize the advantages of both countries. Both of our peoples will benefit from it.
In June 2016, the first Korea-Azerbaijan Economic Joint Committee was held in Seoul to discuss the expansion of trade and investment through expansion of exchanges between the two countries. Our Embassy has designated five priority areas: medicine, ICT, petrochemical, agriculture and tourism. These efforts will bring tremendous success to both of us in the future with the recent industrial diversification policy of Azerbaijan. Meanwhile, the Korean government has provided technical assistance of about $60 million and $66 million to Azerbaijan in the fields of water and sewage treatment and educational improvement respectively. In the future, the Korean government hopes to further contribute to the economic development of Azerbaijan by sharing economic development experiences and technology.
Cooperation in the private sector has been more outstanding between our two countries. I especially appreciate that our business people have made many achievements in the fields of petrochemical, infrastructure construction and construction. I look forward to further expanding cooperation based on the achievements that our two countries have made so far.
Q.: What is your overall evaluation of the current culture and human exchange between us?
A.: Modern diplomacy is being done, focused on cultural cooperation. As Altaic language speaking nations, the cultural diplomacy is most important for our relations. As I have mentioned, this year marks the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between ROK and Azerbaijan. Various cultural events will be held to celebrate this.
In May, more than 900 people attended a K-POP festival at the Baku National University. More than 30 teams participated in the preliminaries, and the number of participants and audience in the festival are increasing year by year. It was very impressive to me that the Azerbaijani youth loved the K-POP rhythm and danced with enthusiasm. In addition to the K-POP events, we had Quiz-on-Korea, Korean Pianist Concert in the National Philharmonic Hall of Azerbaijan.
We will hold various events such as support for IDPs, Korea-Azerbaijan Joint Traditional Music Performance, Taekwondo Competition, Korea-Azerbaijan Joint Photographic Exhibition and Korean Food Festival. In particular, about 80 traditional Korean top artists will visit the country to show the essence of Korean traditional music and cultural performances. Please come and have a lot of fun together.
2017 will be a breakthrough year for the development of the bilateral relations in the fields of tourism and human exchange. With the developing cooperation between the two countries, the visa issuance process has been simplified, allowing Koreans to get an arrival visa at the airport and the citizens of Azerbaijan to get their visa in one day. I have recently been told that the number of Korean tourists visiting Azerbaijan is increasing rapidly, and I am pleased that our efforts are finally working.
Azerbaijan is a longevity country with friendly and wise people and a beautiful Caucasian natural environment. Azerbaijan's long history and diverse culture will also attract many Korean tourists. In Azerbaijan, I think that tea farms in Lankaran, small villages in Lerik, spa in Masalli, golf in Quba and Baku, ski in Shahdag, old towns in Sheki and Lahic, and holy scenery in Naxchivan are strong attractions for Koreans. If a direct flight route is opened between the two countries next year, more people will be able to come and go each other.
Q.: What is your vision of future cooperation in the economic field between the two countries?
A.: Well, I highly appreciate that the government of Azerbaijan is pursuing an industry diversification policy, and I am confident that this policy will provide a richer economy and a stronger economic stamina to Azerbaijan.
The industry diversification policy has already been successful in many areas, tourism and agriculture being particularly successful. The highly diversified industry model of ROK will help the Azerbaijani government in their efforts to diversify its industry. Considering the rich and competent human resources of Azerbaijan, I am sure that the future growth potential of ICT sector and medical sector is very high. ICT experts from ROK are working in universities in Azerbaijan. I am planning to increase their number up to 10. I think that our cooperation to induce a Korean-model general hospital and medicine production plant is very prospective.
If Korean-model general hospitals and pharmaceutical factories with world-strongest competitiveness are introduced into Azerbaijan, it can contribute to the improvement of the medical welfare of the Azerbaijani people and as a medical hub in the Caucasus region to bring highly added value to the Azerbaijani economy. In addition, cooperation in the fields of agriculture and petrochemicals is very promising. Although it is a small achievement in this respect, I appreciate the operation of the agricultural products processing plant in Balakan region by importing fruit dryers from ROK. I hope that the fertilizer plant construction project currently being underway in the Sumgayit city will be successfully completed soon and I look forward to further cooperation in plant construction in the future.
Q.: Do you have a message to our readers?
A.: The Azerbaijani people share many cultural traditions and living customs as Altaic language speaking people like Koreans. The characteristics of the two peoples that respect coexistence and diversity are what we share, and the social traditions that respect seniors and emphasize family relationships are also our commons. We hope that the beautiful and good people of our two countries will expand our friendship based on the common background.