Kazakhstan and South Korea have come a long way together, but a new future is emerging, says Korean Ambassador to Kazakhstan

ASTANA – South Korea and Kazakhstan have traveled an unknown path together, but now, 30 years after the establishment of diplomatic ties, bilateral relations have come of age, South Korea’s Ambassador to Kazakhstan Koo said. Hong-seok, in an interview with The Times of Astana.

Ambassador Koo Hong-seok has been in Kazakhstan since 2020. Photo credit: South Korean Embassy in Kazakhstan

“The past 30 years have been a period during which our relations have matured, laying a solid foundation and gradually forming the basis of our mutual understanding,” Koo Hong-seok said, noting that the relationship between the two countries stems from the Declaration of the Basic Principles of Interrelations and Cooperation between Korea and Kazakhstan signed on May 16, 1995.

The strategic partnership, which the two nations agreed in 2009, received significant impetus, following the initiative of President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev state visit in Korea last August, the first foreign leader to visit South Korea since the start of the pandemic.

“I believe that this continuous development of bilateral relations has been possible thanks to the close relations between the leaders of the two countries, as well as cooperation based on complementary economies and active mutual exchange between our peoples, who have different cultural and similar emotional experiences,” the ambassador said.

Presidents Tokayev and Moon Jae-in during their meeting at Cheongwadae, the presidential palace in Seoul. Photo credit: Akorda press service

Kazakhstan and South Korea have a lot in common

The two countries are similar in many ways, according to the ambassador, including cultural backgrounds and commitment to peace.

“For example, language and customs. Kazakh and Korean belong to the Altai language family and the grammatical word order is the same. It is therefore easier and faster for our peoples to learn our languages. Also, Kazakhs and Koreans are emotionally similar, they have a welcoming and hospitable culture and attach great importance to etiquette,” the ambassador explained.

Korean pop culture is very popular in Kazakhstan. Photo credit: kaz.korean-culture.org

He underlined the peaceful nature of the two countries, which have always advocated for peace and diplomatic solutions.

“As a leading country in the anti-nuclear movement and a responsible member of the international community, Kazakhstan’s experience in denuclearization shows that Kazakhstan continues to contribute as a strong supporter of Korea in denuclearization and peacemaking. on the Korean Peninsula,” Koo Hong-seok said.

He sees growing opportunities for cooperation in regional and international formats amid global geopolitical and geoeconomic uncertainties.

South Korea is also one of the most popular destinations among Kazakh citizens for travel, study and medical treatment. Photo credit: visitkorea.or.kr

“Korea can contribute as one of the main countries to promote Kazakhstan’s diversified foreign policy. Korea will continue to contribute as an important partner and broaden and deepen Kazakhstan’s foreign relations,” he said.

He spoke of the difficult road Korea had to overcome to become the country it is today, demonstrating “political, economic and social successes in a short time.”

“I think Korea’s experience has a lot of useful aspects that Kazakhstan can take into consideration when building New Kazakhstan,” he explained. “Just as no one could imagine today’s Korea 50 years ago, I sincerely believe that Kazakhstan’s future will be as bright as it is hard to imagine 30 years from now.”

People-to-people contacts and cultural exchanges are also growing, with more and more Kazakh citizens choosing Korea as a destination for travel and education.

The historical importance of bilateral relations

The ambassador highlighted the strong Korean diaspora in Kazakhstan, which serves as a “bridge” in bilateral relations.

“This year marks the 85th anniversary of the resettlement of Koreans in Kazakhstan. The Koreans overcame the painful ordeal of being forcibly evicted from their homes in 1937 and settled safely in Kazakhstan. They actively work in various spheres of life of Kazakh society and contribute greatly to the economic and social development of the country,” he said.

A milestone in bilateral relations was the return of the remains of General Hong Beom-do, a historic Korean independence fighter to Korea in August 2021, during Tokayev’s state visit. Hong died in 1943 at the age of 75 and his remains were buried in Kyzylorda.

“As Korea’s ambassador, I made efforts to visit many parts of Kazakhstan and to meet ethnic Koreans in Kazakhstan. I will continue to actively support the new generation of Koreans in Kazakhstan in the future so that they can proudly contribute to the economic and social development of Kazakhstan as an integral part of Kazakh society,” the envoy said.

Trade and Investment Prospects

According to data from the Korean side, the total trade turnover between January and August reached $4.2 billion, surpassing the record high of $4.2 billion in 2019.

“Kazakhstan is Korea’s largest trade and investment partner among the five Central Asian countries. In other words, we can say that Kazakhstan is a key country and an important hub in Central Asia in terms of business,” the Ambassador said.

He cited data indicating that Kazakhstan accounted for 73.6% ($3.26 billion) of Central Asia’s total trade, with exports accounting for 35.4% and imports 99.4%.

“In terms of product types, Korea exports consumer goods such as cars and mobile phones to Kazakhstan while importing raw and intermediate materials such as crude oil and uranium from Kazakhstan,” said the ambassador, underlining the still untapped potential of cooperation in the nuclear and green field. energy, in rare minerals such as uranium and rare earths.

On the investment side, the indicators are just as good. Korea has invested $4.2 billion since 1992.

“Direct investments in Kazakhstan, however, have declined slightly this year due to the impact of COVID-19, the unrest in January, as well as the effect of Western sanctions against Russia and logistical problems caused by the Ukraine crisis” , did he declare.

He hopes that the opening of the Consulate General of Kazakhstan this year in Busan can also greatly contribute to the expansion of bilateral trade and investment cooperation. He pointed out that Busan, the world’s second-largest commercial shipping port with extensive experience in hosting many large-scale international events, is actively seeking to host the 2030 World Expo.

What are the big projects?

Koo Hong-seok said Korea has a positive global reputation in processing and manufacturing technologies for various products.

“Among individual projects, Korea’s Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering won a tender from Tengizchevroil, Kazakhstan’s largest oilfield operator. The project was launched in 2014 and completed in 2020, with a contract value of $2.7 billion,” he said.

The Korean company SK Ecoplant is also involved in the construction of Almaty’s ring road.

the largest road construction infrastructure project in Kazakhstan and Central Asia implemented under a public-private partnership mechanism. The Korean company is part of a concessionaire managing the construction of a 66-kilometre six-lane ring road that is expected to divert a significant portion of transit traffic from Almaty streets and improve connectivity.

Among other projects, major Korean companies Hyundai and Kia have their own production and assembly lines in Almaty and Kostanai, respectively, transferring Korean automotive production technologies to local partners and employees. In July, the construction of a Kia commercial vehicle assembly plant was completed in Astana.

“One of the most potentially large-scale areas of cooperation in the future could be in the electric power sector. I know that the government of Kazakhstan is actively promoting the construction of a gas-fired combined cycle power plant scale, as well as a nuclear power plant, to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060,” the envoy said.

In September, a Korean delegation arrived in Astana to share experience in developing nuclear energy and building nuclear power plants. Photo credit: sknews.kz

In fact, Korea’s Hydro & Nuclear Power is one of four potential contractors to provide their nuclear solutions to Kazakhstan, which plans to build its first nuclear power plant. The selection is however still to do.

Last month, a delegation of Korean nuclear power experts traveled to Kazakhstan to meet with representatives of Kazakhstan Nuclear Power Plants, a subsidiary of the Samruk Kazyna National Wealth Fund which oversees a nuclear power plant project in Kazakhstan.

“We hope to make a significant contribution to the development of Kazakhstan’s nuclear power industry based on our advanced technology and safety techniques, which have been tested and confirmed by the successful construction and operation of nuclear power plants in the United Arab Emirates,” Koo Hong-seok said.

A personal reflection on Kazakhstan

Koo Hong-seok has been in Kazakhstan since 2020. When asked how he could describe his personal impressions of the country, he replied that Kazakhstan can be characterized by three words: unity, bridge and diversification.

“The first word that comes to mind is unity. As a multi-ethnic and multi-confessional country, Kazakhstan attaches great importance to the unification of different nationalities and organizes the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, becoming a window for inter-religious dialogue. I watched with great enthusiasm the seventh congress last month, which was attended by Pope Francis and all the leaders of other religions, who together called the whole world to peace and harmony,” he said. -he declares.

Kazakhstan is also a “geopolitical bridge”, according to him, and for this bridge to work properly, the different factors and actors must be properly taken into account and balanced. “Kazakhstan is currently working hard to achieve this, and I see that Kazakhstan has a bright future,” he added.

The word “diversification” also describes the country well.

“Diversification is at the heart of Kazakhstan’s foreign policy and on which it relies in difficult times like today. Kazakhstan must continue to move in this direction in the future,” he said.

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