Shipping forges strong Greek-Korean links

Roh Moo-hyun is the first president of South Korea to make an official visit to Greece. A member since his youth of the United Democratic Party of South Korea, Roh is a distinguished human rights lawyer who defended the young people who fought to establish democratic freedoms in South Korea. Elected president of South Korea in December 2002, in the 16th presidential election, the 60-year-old president took office in February, 2003. With the slogan «Dynamic South Korea,» the president of his rapidly developing country is coming to Greece for talks on which he lays great importance. Relations between the two countries are close: Greeks fought in the Korean War and the Greek shipping community has confidence in South Korean shipbuilding technology. Making relations even closer is certainly the chief objective of the South Korean president’s visit, accompanied by leading South Korean entrepreneurs. A believer in tradition, a devotee of democracy and Greek culture, and a fan of technology, Roh leads one of the most powerful economies on earth, making the interview he gave to Kathimerini of special interest. What is the basic aim of your visit to Greece? Given the good relations between the two countries, what issues will you discuss with the people you meet? I feel lucky to be the first president of South Korea to visit Greece. I am certain that the agreements we sign during my visit in the field of shipping and tourism will contribute decisively to the development of substantial bilateral cooperation in those two industries that are so important for Greece. I am being accompanied on my visit by a group of leading Korean entrepreneurs who will meet with their Greek counterparts, I hope that such meetings will boost exchanges and cooperation in various sectors such as trade, investment and information technology. The South Korean government will actively support such efforts. Your country is among the rapidly emerging markets on the international scene. Greece is the only European Union member in Southeastern Europe. Having in mind Greece’s strategic, economic and geopolitical position, in which fields do you see prospects for bilateral cooperation? I think there are many sectors with potential for bilateral cooperation between South Korea, which is rapidly developing into an economic hub of northeastern Asia, and Greece, which is a key country in Southeastern Europe. Greece is the greatest shipping power in the world, while South Korea proudly holds first place in world shipbuilding and is almost 10th on the list of the most powerful industries. So cooperation between shipping and shipbuilding is a good beginning which can only bring profit to both countries. I also foresee exceptional prospects of cooperation with Greece in the tourism industry, a strong card for the Greek economy. The experience and know-how that Greece has acquired from the development of tourism in the Aegean Islands will be essential for the South Korean government in its development plan for the shores of southwestern Korea. We are also looking at plans for collaboration on the construction and modernization of ports as well as in the new constantly developing fields of information science and high-tech communications. I think the two countries must look closely at ways of jointly promoting their commerce in the Balkans. Greek shipowners were the first to recognize South Korea’s potential in shipbuilding and they were right. What is the current state of relations in the South Korean and Greek shipping family and how do you envision the prospect of cooperation? The development of the South Korean shipbuilding industry cannot be discussed without mentioning Greece. Its connection with Greek shipping began in 1972 when shipowner Giorgos Livanos ordered two oil tankers from a company whose shipyard was still at the planning stage. Since 2005, the South Korean shipping industry has headed the global shipbuilding market, as can be seen by the number of new Greek ships made in South Korea, which is up to 54 percent. There is a vibrant, ongoing exchange between the shipping and shipbuilding industries of the two countries, and South Korean companies take part in Posidonia, the world’s largest shipping fair, which is held in Greece. I expect that South Korean-Greek relations in shipbuilding and shipping will be further strengthened by the upcoming round-table discussion on shipbuilding and by the bilateral shipping agreement that will be signed during my visit. Last year Greece created an attractive climate for foreign investors. We know that South Korea is one of the investors in this region. How do you envision the prospect of a bilateral collaboration in the investment sector? South Korea is also among the leaders in the field of computer science, communications and the Internet. How does your country plan to collaborate with Greece in that sector? As we speak, South Korean investment in Greece is around 2.3 million US dollars, while Greek investment in South Korea is about 5.4 million US dollars, sums which seem small in view of the prospects of cooperation that are opening up for the two countries. With the expansion of economic exchange, however, I believe that investment by both countries will grow accordingly. For instance, South Korean companies have shown great interest in the ambitious plans for modernizing ports in Greece. With the best technological equipment in the world and great expertise in the field of shipbuilding and systems management as well as in port construction, South Korean industries will prove attractive partners for Greece. It would also be desirable to find applications for South Korea’s world-leading technological innovations in computer science, and communications in various fields of industrial collaboration. At the forum, I expect the industry leaders of both countries to discuss and agree on bilateral ways of boosting joint international investment in the Balkans. Tell us about your connection with Greek history and culture and your general views on them. Do you think that the similar historical memory of the two states and the fact that both have faced problems with neighboring states in the recent past brings the two countries closer? For South Koreans, the name of Greece conjures up images of the Acropolis, the Parthenon, the beautiful islands of the Aegean, to mention just a few examples. They read Greek history and mythology and that kindles a desire to visit your wonderful country, which is the birthplace of Western civilization and the cradle of democracy, at least once in their lives. Apart from the shared geographical characteristic of being a peninsula, Greece and South Korea share remarkably similar historical experiences, such as frequent incursions by foreigners, colonization and the achievement of successful political and economic development after dictatorial regimes. Both peoples share similarities in their zeal for education and the hospitality they show to visitors. These similarities can form a basis as the two states continue to build friendly, cooperative relations that will endure. What benefits did your country gain from organizing the Olympic Games? Has South Korea changed since the Games in Seoul and, if so, to what extent? The 24th Olympic Games, which were held in Seoul in 1988, were the biggest Olympiad until then, attracting 8,000 athletes from more than 160 countries. As athletes came from the Eastern and the Western blocs for the first time in 12 years, the Olympic Games in Seoul went down as the ones where the Olympic spirit of reconciliation was achieved through athletics. With Seoul’s successful organization of the Games, South Korea experienced the feeling of national unity and international trust. At the international level, the image and prestige of the country improved. Greece has just come from the successful organization of the Games in Athens in 2004, which gave a boost to its development at an international level. I hope that contacts between the two states will also improve in the sporting field, which will definitely benefit friendly relations between the two states. The problem with North Korea is well known. How are you handling it and how do you see the future? The South Korean government has diligently sought political peace and prosperity while at the same time trying to establish foundations for trust and to expand relations between the two states. It is true that since North Korea fired missiles in July, relations between North and South Korea have been going through a crisis. Nevertheless, relations are still under control, as is shown by the restarting of the dialogue on aid for North Korea to assist flood victims. There probably will be some shakiness in relations between the two states due to North Korea’s nuclear program and other issues, but we hope relations will normalize in the future. While our government continues to work for development and improvement of intra-Korean relations by means of dialogue and cooperation, we will continue to aim for peace and shared prosperity on the Korean peninsula through efforts to restart the interrupted talks and we will continue to strive for a peaceful solution of the issue of North Korea’s nuclear weapons.