20 October 2020

Tuesday, 15:43



Interview with Mr. Kim Tong-op, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Korea to Azerbaijan



"Your Excellency, I would like to start our conversation with something positive, but, unfortunately, our conversation takes place in difficult times for humanity. The coronavirus pandemic is sweeping the world. The Republic of Korea was one of the first countries hit by the virus, but, apparently, the level of infection in your country is declining. What would be your advice to other countries, including Azerbaijan? Are the measures taken sufficient?"

"The most important thing is that governments take responsibility and work actively on all the opportunities and challenges on the recommendation of specialists. It is imperative to warn the population about the real state of affairs, possible consequences, ways to avoid infection and panic to effectively adapt to the developing situation.

“Doctors recommend wearing masks, as well as distancing, even at home. It is the bare minimum authorities should warn the population about. In addition, all large-scale events involving a large number of people should be postponed until better times. In this context, I support the measures taken by the Azerbaijani government.

“I do not think it is relevant to estimate the sufficiency of the measures taken now. Authorities can raise the awareness of population and take appropriate measures, but—by and large—everything depends on the citizens themselves. If they do not follow the recommendations of the authorities, the situation will be more difficult than now. They must realise the importance of leaving behind their usual lifestyles, taking into account recommendations on the urgency of social exclusion."

"How did the spread of the coronavirus pandemic affect bilateral relations between our countries?"

"The issue is relevant not only for Azerbaijani-Korean relations. All countries are forced to limit relationships, closing borders to block the spread of the pandemic. I think that the temporary effect of the virus on the exchange of citizens and some plans agreed between the two countries cannot be avoided. We should wait until we can take the virus under control.

“In mid-February, our country was in a very bad situation due to the pandemic. We have finally managed to take the situation under control. Our statistics are improving, while the situation in Europe and in other countries is getting worse. Now we are trying to avoid the negative influence of all other countries, which is very paradoxical. So, it is necessary to wait until the global crisis is over, in other words, until the summer, according to experts. At the same time, we must try to minimise the negative effect of the situation on our bilateral relations as much as possible. It is impossible to completely avoid temporary damage, but it is necessary to improve cooperation."

"Yet we hope that the negative impact will be insignificant. But in general, are you satisfied with the level of political cooperation between our countries?"

"Relations between Korea and Azerbaijan have been developing since 1992 in various fields. The political sphere, especially the mutual visits of heads of state, chairmen of national assemblies and other high-ranking government officials, has become a strong basis for mutual understanding between our countries and an increase in exchange between our peoples. Political cooperation between our countries is quite actively promoted at the international level. I hope that in the future cooperation between our states will expand on an ongoing basis."

"Trade dynamics between Azerbaijan and Korea has slightly decreased in recent years. What is done to boost the trade relations between our countries? What are the forecasts and plans for 2020 and beyond?"

"I think that in comparison with the potential for cooperation the trade turnover is still not at the satisfactory level. Azerbaijan is rich in oil, gas and other natural resources. It is as a transit hub of the Caucasus, which connects the South with the North and the West with the East. The important role of Azerbaijan in the region is growing everyday. Korea is rich in highly specialised human capital, known and recognised at international level. Korea has a high competitive power in information and communication technologies, machinery and industry. I hope that through the reunification of these mutually reinforcing elements, interstate trade will develop on an even larger scale."

"What is the potential of attracting Azerbaijani investors to Korea and vice versa?"

"Korean companies have a great interest in oil and gas projects in Azerbaijan, as well as the ongoing infrastructure projects. I hope that the improvement of social transparency in Azerbaijan as a result of the consistent reform policy implemented by President Ilham Aliyev will further increase the interest of Korean companies in the country. At the same time, both the Korean central and local governments are implementing an open door policy to attract foreign investment. Active cooperation and support in this area is ongoing. Thanks to its economic potential, Korea has become a member of the G-20 and is recognized globally. Investing in Korea is a very good chance to secure even greater profits."

"How much is the Republic of Korea interested in becoming a partner in oil and gas projects of Azerbaijan? Or is alternative energy the preferred area of cooperation?"

"Korea has previously participated in the joint feasibility study of gas fields in the Caspian Sea, which is an indicator of Korean interest in the development of natural resources and the energy sector of Azerbaijan. But now, instead of direct oil and gas production, we expect to take an active part in related projects for the construction of plants, infrastructure, etc. Korea has the best technology in the world for the production of photovoltaic modules, wind turbines, and desalination. The use of such technologies, especially in the field of alternative energy, can lead to high results in our cooperation."

"One of the mechanisms for increasing the efficiency of cooperation between Korea and Azerbaijan in 2016-2020 is the ongoing Partnership with Country Strategy (PCS). What are the benefits of this program? How will the programs of international and economic cooperation between the two countries develop after 2020?"

"Korea is implementing the New Northern Policy, and Azerbaijan is one of the member states in this platform. Azerbaijan and Korea are geographically far apart. But Korea has great interest in Azerbaijan—the country that unites Europe with the Middle East and Asia, a transit and transport hub. In particular, if we can unify the efforts in the development of the non-oil sector implemented by President Ilham Aliyev with the experience of economic development and the level of high education in Korea, its world-class information technologies and experience in the construction of plants and factories, then we can guarantee broader prospects for cooperation. By the way, the Korean companies are always interested in participating in large-scale projects implemented in Azerbaijan. Korea also has high indicators in information technology, agriculture, medicine, and the potential for cooperation with Azerbaijan in this area is great."

"South Korean tourists have demonstrated an increasing level of interest in Azerbaijan in recent years. What do you think should attract tourists to Azerbaijan? What should Azerbaijan continue to improve in the sector of tourism?"

"That’s correct. Koreans have recently increased interest in the tourism sector of Azerbaijan. They are mostly attracted by the natural beauties of the Caucasus region, the culture and traditions of Azerbaijan. But the lack of direct flights indicates the need to address a number of issues in the tourism sector. I believe that the Azerbaijani side can conceptualise the natural beauties of the country and further develop this area. In addition, it is necessary to simplify and make transport infrastructure more convenient as far as the tourist, historical and natural attractions in Gabala, Sheki, Khinalyg, Gusar, Ganja, etc. are concerned. They have no analogues in the world. This will contribute to prolonged trips to Azerbaijan and will attract even more tourists to the country."

"What is the agenda for the next meeting of the Joint Intergovernmental Commission on Economic Cooperation? How effectively are decisions from previous meetings implemented?"

"The second meeting of the joint commission was held in Baku this February. The first meeting was held in 2016 in Seoul. After four years in Baku, the parties evaluated the progress in economic cooperation and reached an agreement to develop bilateral cooperation. We believe that continued cooperation in the economy, trade, investment and other areas will be useful to both countries. We also agreed that state support for mutual cooperation in the private sector is required too."

"Republic of Korea has rich experience in implementing innovative and technological solutions. What are the South Korean projects currently implemented in Azerbaijan? What kind of projects is the Republic of Korea ready to implement in Azerbaijan?"

"Korea is recognised in the world for its information technology and innovative efforts. The best proof of this fact is Azerbaijan’s interest in Korean technological potential and innovative efforts, as well as the desire for cooperation in these areas. In this regard, our government actively maintains contacts and cooperates with the Azerbaijan Innovation Center, the Agency for the Development of Small and Medium Enterprises and other state institutions. Through KOICA (Korean International Cooperation Agency), support projects mainly focused on strengthening the technical level and potential of specialists, including information technology, are implemented in Azerbaijan."

"Azerbaijan and Korea have jointly implemented a set of projects of humanitarian nature related to education, science, and culture. In which areas is perspective cooperation possible?"

"The Korean government is cooperating with Azerbaijan, including through the International Exchange Fund (KF), in the fields of education, science, and culture. Baku State University provides training in Korean Studies, and the Azerbaijani University of Languages trains Korean translators. Khazar University and Nakhchivan State University provide the Korean language lessons. There is some support for providing these specialties and lessons. Along with this, Korea annually announces a state program that allows foreign students, including Azerbaijanis, to receive education in Korea based on full scholarship. I think that soon the interest of Azerbaijani youth in Korea will significantly increase. I believe that this interest will become a strong and encouraging green light for the future of our interstate relations."

“Thank you for the interview!"