Interview: Dr Song Jong-Hwan, Ambassador, Republic of Korea
And both countries finally seem determined to exploit it
These are changing times not just for Pakistan but the entire region. Interestingly, after looking to the west for far too long, Pakistan seems shifting its outlook more eastwards. That is welcome because much of the Asian region, the Far East especially, is undergoing feverish change. China, of course, is at the head of this march to progress, which is seeing economies readjusting, relationships realigning and priorities resetting.
Pakistan won much points recently by playing the key role in the upcoming Chinese Pivot that intends to change trading, and therefore diplomatic, associations across Asia, and partnerships with Europe. But another crucial country in this transition will be the Republic of Korea. With it too Pakistan enjoys cordial ties. And it too is determined to stay on the right side of this great Asian shift, if it can be called that.
Korea’s ambassador to Pakistan, Dr Song Jong-Hwan, seasoned and respected ambassador, talked exclusively to DNA regarding the situation.
Question: Excellency, please accept our heartfelt condolences over the loss of two ambassadors and family members of your other colleagues in the tragic crash of Mi-17 helicopter at Naltar, Gilgit. How the diplomatic corps has taken this incident as a whole?
Dr Song Jong-Hwan: The horrible helicopter crash in Gilgit-Baltistan has impacted me deeply. I would like to first offer my sincerest condolences to the families of the victims and let them know that I have been continuously keeping them in my prayers. I am also praying that my injured colleagues are blessed with health and full recovery as soon as possible. This sad incident will also affect Pakistan unfortunately due to its negative implications on tourism.
Q: Excellency, how do you see the statement of National Security Advisor Sartaj Aziz who said Pakistan was simultaneously developing relations with China, Japan and the Republic of Korea? Do you think there is a sea-change in Pakistan’s establishment which is now adopting “Look East” policy rather than banking to the west?
SJH: The Republic of Korea has given a lot of attention to further improving relations with Pakistan. Last year, for the first time in history, both the prime minister of Korea and the speaker of the National Assembly of Korea visited Pakistan.
The Republic of Korea has given a lot of attention to further improving relations with Pakistan. Last year, for the first time in history, both the prime minister of Korea and the speaker of the National Assembly of Korea visited Pakistan
Thus, Korea highly appreciates the remarks of National Security Advisor Sartaj Aziz. The sentiments he expressed are encouraging and we hope that Pakistan’s foreign policy follows suit. We are very hopeful that the new commitment by His Excellency Sartaj Aziz will bring tangible change in improving the Pak-Korea friendship. We look forward to having an even stronger relationship with Pakistan.
In this regard, 1st vice minister of foreign affairs of Korea will be visiting Islamabad in early July this year to have 9th Bilateral Policy Consultation meeting with secretary of foreign affairs of Pakistan. In the meeting, the two sides will discuss across-the-board bilateral issues, including ways to promote cooperation in economic, trade, investment, development affairs and collaboration on regional and global issues.
There are many fields in which increased cooperation between Korea and Pakistan will benefit both countries, including economics, energy, agriculture, etc.
Korea is one of the leading hydropower development partners of Pakistan by undertaking a number of hydropower projects (HPPs) amounted billions of dollars such as;
84 mw New Bong HPP has been constructed by Sambu construction in 2013.
147 mw Patrind HPP by K-water, 102 mw Gulpur HPP by KOSEP and 106 mw Golen Gol HPP by Sambu construction are being constructed on fast track basis.
In addition to that the review studies of over 2100 mw HPPs are at an advanced stage, including 300 mw Balakot HPP by K-water as lead contractor, Daewoo E&C and POSCO Engineering as EPC contractor, 665 mw Lower Pallas Valley HPP by K-water, 496 mw Lower Spat Gah HPP by KOMIPO, 650 mw Azad Patten HPP by KOMIPO, Daelim and Lotte E&C.
Agriculture is another area where Korea and Pakistan can do a lot of mutually beneficial business. As you know, Pakistan is rich in agri-land, has well-established irrigation systems and relevant human resource, while Korea is renowned in agro-technology and expertise. In that way, I can say, Korea-Pakistan joint working in the agriculture sector certainly would bring food security and economic prosperity to both countries.
Q: With China investing billions in Pakistan, it seems Pakistan is going to play a key role in connecting Asian economies with Central Asian states and Europe. How could the Republic of Korea benefit from the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) route?
SJH: Korea is already helping connect Pakistan to Pakistan’s Northern areas and the Central Asian Republics. As Korea is constructing Lowari Tunnel project and has pledged around $78 million in the Economic Development Cooperation Fund (EDCF) financing for Malakand tunnel project in 2011. Furthermore, a framework arrangement for over $250 million EDCF concessional financing is expected to be signed soon. It will facilitate financing for various projects including N-45 national highway, E-Park and Children Hospital Sindh projects, etc.
These projects could be used together with the CPEC to greatly improve access to the markets of Central Asian Republics. We hope Korean and Pakistani companies will be given the chance to participate in the construction of CPEC related projects.
Q. Despite the history of strong bilateral relations between ROK and Pakistan, the bilateral trade volume was only $1.1 billion in 2014. How can both friendly countries further promote trade and investment?
SJH: You are correct in suggesting that the current trade volume between Pakistan and Korea is far below their potential level. Pakistan-Korea are leading trade partners, but, in last two years this trade partnership, after touching the two-way trade volume at $1.6 billion in 2012, dropped to $1.17 billion in 2014, almost 27 percent decline in just two years.
This sharp decline is a matter of serious concern for all of us as at a time when trade among the nations is increasing day by day, and Korea’s trade with the world has been increased steadily to over $1.1 trillion since 2012, why then does Pakistan-Korea trade show a downward trend?
But for every problem there is a solution and in every situation we should find an opportunity.
I have written many articles in Pakistani and Korean newspapers to promote Korean trade and investment in Pakistan. I have also made efforts to bring the Pakistanis and Koreans closer at official and social levels. In this regard I have extensively travelled around Pakistan and met with various political leaders and the Chambers of Commerce in many cities like Karachi, Lahore, Faisalabad, Sialkot, Gujranwala, Sahiwal, Rawalpindi and Islamabad. To improve cooperation and commerce, I have also had extensive interaction with the Pakistan-Korea Business and Friendship Council.
Now, the federal minister for commerce, Khurram Dastgir Khan, is visiting Korea in the near future to discuss the ways and means of enhancing bilateral trade and investment. On the occasion a Joint Committee on Trade and Investment meeting would be held. Both sides are also preparing to start a civilian level study for exploring the possibility of bilateral Free Trade Agreement (FTA). It’s crucial for both governments to have FTA to help boost bilateral trade.
To further increase the Korea-Pakistan economic cooperation based on the complementary nature of our two economies, Korea has proposed the resumption of the Joint Economic Committee (JEC), of which the last meeting was held almost nineteen years ago in 1996.
Historians claim that the monk who spread Buddhist teachings throughout the Korean peninsula back in the 4th century — Monk Maranatha — hailed from Taxila, a city in the present-day Pakistan
I hope such engagements would help improve the existing relations as well as to explore the possibilities of new venues of cooperation.
In my opinion, our levels of trade and investment is sometimes difficult to achieve due to long distances and security issues, but I am hopeful that with greater official focus these issues can be resolved. It is in this regard that last year’s visit of Korean prime minister and speaker of national assembly and the recent statement of Pakistan’s national security advisor will be very helpful.
Q: Do you think KOTRA (Korea Trade Promotion Corporation) is playing a vital role in enhancing trade relations between Pakistan and Korea?
SJH: KOTRA is doing an excellent job of improving Korean trade all over the world. This is one reason that Korea’s trade with the world has is more than $1.1 trillion and Korea is the 7th largest exporter and the 9th largest importer in the world.
KOTRA’s activities in Pakistan, such as organising a Power Forum in December 2013 and an Investment Cooperation Forum in April 2014, have yielded some great results to bring businessmen from both sides closer. But, as mentioned before, there are a lot of opportunities that can be explored.
Q: Besides warm friendly relations between the governments of both Pakistan and ROK, what measures, in your view, could help further boost people-to-people contacts between the two countries?
SJH: I believe that cultural links are important. Many Pakistanis are learning the Korean language at the Sejong Institute at NUML and at other private institutes. Hundreds of Pakistani officials and students come to Korea every year for trainings and education and thousands of Pakistani workers are contributing to the Korean economy. Koreans also love to visit Pakistan, especially Taxila. If we could increase media coverage of each other’s countries this may strengthen ties even more.
Q: A lot has been said about commonalities between the cultures and languages shared between the peoples of Republic of Korea and Pakistan. Can you please explain some of them?
SJH: The peoples of Pakistan and RoK share rich historical and cultural links. Historians claim that the monk who spread Buddhist teachings throughout the Korean peninsula back in the 4th century — Monk Maranatha — hailed from Taxila, a city in the present-day Pakistan. Three centuries later, in 7th century, a Korean Buddhist monk, Hyecho travelled through the Punjab, including Taxila. His tales about his journey are widely read in Korea to this day.
Moreover, there are many similarities even in today’s Korean and Urdu languages which bind the peoples of Pakistan and Republic of Korea.
In Urdu, you call your father, abbu jee, or abba, while we have the same in Korea. Same goes for mother as we also call ‘ammi’. So there are many commonalities which need to be projected by media in both the countries.