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The Warsaw Voice » National Voice » September 2, 2011
Special National Section: Korea in Poland
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Closer Than You Think
September 2, 2011   
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Joon Jae Lee, ambassador of the Republic of Korea to Poland, talks to Witold Żygulski.

What is the current state of relations between the Republic of Korea and Poland?
The history of relations between Korea and Poland is not very long. Formal diplomatic ties were established after the collapse of the communist regime in Poland in 1989. Since then the relations between our two countries have developed remarkably in various fields. They are consolidated through the exchange of visits at the highest level. In 2009, our President H.E. Lee Myung-bak visited Poland to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations. In 2008, Polish President H.E. Lech Kaczyński paid a visit to Korea. Economic cooperation also developed very quickly. In 1989, our trade volume was only $125 million; 20 years later it reached $4.4 billion, growing 35 times during that period.

The Korean government is also making efforts to promote cultural relations with Poland. In 2009 we opened the Korean Cultural Center in Warsaw, which now plays a pivotal role in introducing Korean culture to Poles and in enhancing cultural exchange between our nations.

What are the main areas of bilateral cooperation today?
There are many areas that offer great potential for bilateral cooperation.
One of the main fields is economic cooperation. I think that in the coming years our economic relations will be further promoted and the prospect is very bright. The Korean government and businessmen consider Poland to be one of the most important partners in Europe. There is already big Korean investment in Poland, worth around $2 billion. About 120 Korean companies have invested in this country. One example is LG Electronics, a company that has built huge manufacturing bases in the Mława and Wrocław areas. The value of investment of LG and its partner companies in Poland is around $1.5 billion, with employment at 20,000. Last year, they produced 7 million hi-tech LCD television sets, of which more than 90 percent were exported to other European markets. This means that they make a contribution to the Polish economy.

The Korean government wants to expand the scope of economic cooperation in Poland. One of the areas is the nuclear energy sector. The first nuclear power plant was opened in Korea in 1978. Now we have 21 nuclear power plant units and around 40 percent of the electricity in Korea is generated from them. We believe our technology and experience can be very useful in developing the Polish nuclear power plants, which are planned by your government.

Another prospective area of cooperation is the aerospace industry. One of the leading Korean companies, called KAI, successfully produces the T-50, a hi-tech supersonic training aircraft that they offer to the Polish air force. Our government supports the deal, hoping it could be a perfect starting point for extensive cooperation in the military industry in the future.

Poland is holding the rotating presidency of the European Union until the end of the year. How important is this to the development of Polish-Korean relations?
We know that Poland played a leading role in the process of toppling communism in Europe and made a successful transition from the communist system to a market economy peacefully 20 years ago. Poland joined the EU in 2004 and this year it assumed the presidency of the EU. It is a story of success.

The European Union is very important to Korea. It is our second largest trading partner after China. The EU is an important partner not only economically but also politically. Cooperation between Korea and the EU is essential for the peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula, which is the top priority for our government. I believe that the EU will continue to support the efforts to sustain the stability in the Korean Peninsula, which is important for the peace and security of the world. I am sure that Poland will play a great role in strengthening the relations between Korea and the EU during its presidency.

Your country recently signed a free trade agreement (FTA) with the EU. What impact will this have on Korean investment in Poland?
The FTA between Korea and the EU has been in effect since July 1, 2011. It should become an important milestone in the history of Korea-EU relations. The trade volume between the EU and Korea and Korean investment in Europe will be significantly increased in the next decade. Last year the trade volume was $92.2 billion and Korean investment in the EU totaled $7.4 billion. Of course, Korean investment in Poland should increase as well. Even before the FTA, many Korean businessmen showed a great interest in Poland. But I have to say that to attract Korean investors it is necessary to improve the infrastructure, such as the road and railway systems, in Poland. It is also necessary to provide the right services to new investment projects at the central and local government levels.

These days many Polish tourists travel to faraway countries, including Korea. What special places of interest would you recommend to them?
As you know, just recently Korea succeeded in becoming named as the host of the 2018 Olympic Winter Games. The town of Pyeongchang (pictured below), which will be hosting the games, is one of the best places for winter sports lovers. It is located near the seashore, so in the summertime it is also a popular resort. Another very good place to visit is our famous Jeju island, nicknamed “Honeymoon Island,” because many newlyweds choose it as a honeymoon destination. The island lies in the subtropical region so the weather is different from that in mainland Korea. The culture is also unique; the people there maintain many original customs. Another attraction is the “temple stay.” Many foreigners come to visit the local Buddhist temples, situated in the mountains. Those temples offer the opportunity of staying there for several days, discovering the lifestyle of monks. Such spiritual journeys are very popular among both Korean people and Western visitors to Korea.

Seoul, the capital of Korea, is also a must-see destination for tourists, with its 600-year history and 10 million population. It is a city with a mixture of old tradition and modern ways of life. It is a city full of dynamics. Young people enjoy shopping for brand-new casual wear. Seoul preserves old streets in the downtown area so foreigners can also enjoy traditional Korean architecture in the heart of the city.
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