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S'pore, Korea marching together for future
SINGAPORE and Korea this year celebrate 42 years of diplomatic relations, and these excellent ties are set to continue during the term of the Korean Ambassador to Singapore, Lee Sangdeok.
"Since 1975, Korea and Singapore have developed a wide range of close relationships in politics, economy, and culture," said Mr Lee, who took up his position in Singapore last April.
"In terms of political and diplomatic relations, mutual trust has been built through constant high-level visits and exchanges. Government officials and prominent leaders in various areas have actively continued the exchanges," he added.
For example, earlier this year, the Speaker of Korea's National Assembly, Chung Sye-kyun, made an official visit to Singapore and met his counterpart, then Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob.
In addition, Joo Hyung-hwan, Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy, visited Singapore to have bilateral talks with Singapore Minister for Trade and Industry Lim Hng Kiang to explore cooperation in SMEs.
Meanwhile from the Singapore side, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for Manpower and Home Affairs, Josephine Teo, and Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs, Mohamad Maliki Osman, also made a working visit to Korea.
He shared that as Korean Ambassador to Singapore, the question of how the Korea-Singapore relationship can grow further is always on his mind.
"Now that Korea and Singapore are facing common challenges coming from the slow pace of economic growth and global uncertainties, it is imperative to explore new growth engines for sustainable development. To this end, Korea and Singapore can and should strengthen and advance our cooperative relationship in pursuit of our common interests in the areas of biomedical, healthcare, and ICT and nurturing SMEs," said Mr Lee.
"Since my arrival in Singapore in April last year, I have learnt that our two economies share many things in common, and we are not in a competitive but in a mutually-complementary relationship. For example, Korean SMEs are equipped with advanced technologies and on-site experiences, while Singaporean counterparts are renowned for their creative ideas and financing capacity as well as a wide range of overseas networks," he noted.
"By combining those merits together in an efficient manner, I believe that timely and promising cooperation models can be created for both Korea and Singapore," he emphasised.
Mr Lee cited examples in the biomedical field, where substantial achievements have come from joint efforts by both public and private sector parties, including A*Star's medical R&D project with one of the best medical centres in Korea and a joint research project with Korea's top tier cosmetic company, as well as the Nanyang Technological University's Geneome100K Asia project in cooperation with a Korean genomics company.
"Witnessing the progress in this area, I am confident that the bilateral cooperation model - G2G as well as B2B - will be further expanded to other areas and the relationship between Korea and Singapore will be further strengthened as trusted partners for creating a new growth engine," said Mr Lee.
Moving on to Asean, where Korea is taking an increasing interest under the new administration of President Moon Jae-in, Mr Lee said Singapore also has an important role to play as an intermediary.
"The Korean government is putting stronger emphasis on Asean than ever before. We are committed to expanding our diplomatic horizon and reaching out to diverse partners, in particular Asean as a key partner in this endeavour," he said.
Mr Lee pointed out that in line with the high value Korea places on its relations with Asean, Mr Moon had sent a Special Envoy to Asean straight after his inauguration and reiterated the importance of Korea-Asean relations by saying, "Asean is as important as the immediate neighbours around the peninsula in Korea's external relations".
He also noted Asean's huge growth potential and Singapore's key role within it as the regional grouping celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, and as Chair of Asean next year. "Given Asean has been pursuing the development of the Asean Economic Community and the realisation of the Asean Community Vision 2025, the role of Singapore in the region is becoming even more essential," said Mr Lee.
"To achieve each other's growth and development in a mutually beneficial manner, the Korean government is ready to provide support for the advancement of the Asean Economic Community and capacity building projects for Asean enterprises, in particular, micro, small and medium sized enterprises," he added.
"In this regard, I strongly believe that Singapore, as a gateway to Asean, can play an outstanding role in reinforcing relations between Korea and the region," said Mr Lee.
With Singapore set to chair the grouping in 2018, Mr Lee said the Korean government is keen to work closely with the republic to explore ways to cooperate with Asean, as a reliable partner.
"Against this backdrop, I am quite sure that the Korean government will attach greater importance to strengthening its relations with Singapore and to upgrade the ties between Korea and Asean as well," he said.
In addition to economic and trade ties, cultural ties between the two countries have been developing apace. Mr Lee highlighted the launch of the Asean Culture House in Busan, meant to introduce the culture of Asean countries to the Korean public in the form of music, dance and movies, as a cornerstone for boosting cultural ties between Korea and Asean. "As an ideal platform for two-way exchanges, it will help deepen the understanding of Asean among the Korean people and play an important role in promoting cultural exchanges between the two regions," said Mr Lee.
This project has come about from close collaboration among Korea and Asean member states, with all the 10 Asean countries donating an item each to showcase their unique cultures. These include a trishaw from Singapore, which Mr Lee especially praised, noting that the extra effort required to ship the bulky item was well worth it as it has become a very popular exhibit, especially since Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and Dr Maliki posed together on it at the opening ceremony.
"Taking this opportunity, I would like to extend my sincere appreciation to the Singapore government, especially the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, the National Heritage Board, the Singapore Tourism Board, and the National Parks Board, who greatly assisted in the donating process of the exhibit items representing Singapore to the Asean Culture House," he said.
Singapore and Korea also enjoy a strong relationship, underpinned by close economic cooperation and encompassing areas such as biomedicine and healthcare, ICT and fintech.
This is being continuously supported and strengthened. In October last year, Korea's Financial Services Commission and the Monetary Authority of Singapore signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to strengthen cooperation in the area of fintech.
"Based upon such a firm foundation, our two countries have been engaging in exchange of information and knowhow on relevant regulations, policies, technologies, and have been also planning joint projects for digital and mobile payment systems, block chain, big data, and so on. I hope we can see a visible outcome soon," said Mr Lee.
He suggested that cashless payments and e-commerce are two emerging areas the two countries can cooperate in. For example, he noted that while Singapore's e-commerce market has grown about 30 per cent year-on-year over the past two years, it makes up only 3 per cent out of total commercial transactions.
Mr Lee compared this to Korea where the e-commerce market went from constituting less than 5 per cent of total commercial transactions 10 years ago to about 20 per cent currently. "In addition, everyday use of mobile phones could expedite the expansion of e-commerce not only in Singapore but also in the South-east Asian market sooner than we expect," Mr Lee suggested.
He went on to cite the popular Korean-run online market "Qoo10", which springboarded on the explosive growth of e-commerce in Korea in the early to mid-2000s.
With their wealth of experience and knowledge in the online business, Korean companies could work well with partners that have a well-connected logistics system and a strong drive to build e-commerce systems in South-east Asia, Mr Lee said, suggesting that this could be "the next case of excellent cooperation projects between Korea and Singapore".
Meanwhile, the exchange of people and cultures has also been strong between Korea and Singapore in recent years.
These vibrant cultural exchanges have taken various forms. For example, this year, many Singaporeans enjoyed the special exhibition, "Joseon Korea: Court Treasures and City Life", at the Asian Civilisations Museum. Previously, the special exhibition "Singapore's mixed culture: Peranakan" was held at the National Museum of Korea in 2013.
"Such meaningful exchanges have been expanded to the area of mass culture such as K-pop, K-drama, and K-movies. The K-Pop World Festival Singapore Preliminary held in August drew big attention from Singaporeans," Mr Lee added.
"For years, cultural exchanges, tourism, and people-to-people exchanges have immeasurably contributed to the enhancement of the bilateral relationship between Korea and Singapore," he said.
Mr Lee said the Korean Embassy has been making continuous efforts to reach out to local communities with a wide variety of events. These include the K-Square event in Tampines Hub in mid-October, which will showcase all things Korean.
"These events are aimed at meeting and interacting with ordinary Singaporeans to let them personally experience various things about Korea. We will keep on devoting our endeavours and hope to widen the scope of cultural exchanges to the fields of contemporary arts, literature, and performing arts in the future," he said.
Finally, Mr Lee also highlighted the many events happening in Korea over the next year and pointed out its many attractions. "I learnt many Singaporeans take winter holidays to places in the north so that they can experience snowy winter," he said.
"In this regard, I would like to invite you to the Winter Olympic Games, which will be held in Pyeongchang City of Korea from 9th to 25th of February 2018," he said.
Allaying fears of tensions in the region, Mr Lee said: "Some of you may be a bit concerned about the current situation on the Korean Peninsula but I can assure you that there will be a very safe and secure environment for the Games and Korea is very ready to welcome everyone from Singapore."
And giving the ultimate incentive, Mr Lee concluded by pointing out that the Korea Grand Sale will also coincide with the Winter Olympics.
"I hope many of you can visit during the Olympics and feel the vibrancy of Korea during the winter season," he concluded.