For Swiss Ambassador, Peace Is Not Just Another WordChristian Muhlethaler, 54, Switzerland's ambassador to Korea, has been a diplomat since 1980. Before arriving in Korea, he served in Saudi Arabia, Czechoslovakia and Germany. He was also a diplomatic inspector, which involved extensive travel across Asia. But Korea is the first Asian country where he has lived and experienced the culture. At the recent opening of the international sculpture garden in Yongsan Family Park, the ambassador spoke with the JoongAng Ilbo English Edition about Swiss-Korean relations.
IHT-JAI: Why are you involved in art projects like the one at Yongsan Family Park?
Muhlethaler: The embassy is constantly looking for events with high impact on the general public in order to promote the image of Switzerland. Laurence Geoffrey's Ltd., a company specializing in art-related projects, coordinated the sculpture garden and invited a successful artist, Christian Herdeg. His work "Light Twin Columns" represents not just mountainous scenery and watches from Switzerland, it's a modern piece of art.
IHT-JAI: What do you consider your mission in Korea?
Muhlethaler: It depends on the opportunities. Korea is important to Switzerland, most of all, for economic reasons. Switzerland has made a direct investment in Korea. Once a month, we hold a meeting for the Swiss-Korea Business Council, which consists of businessmen, CEOs, presidents and representatives of over 100 joint-venture companies in Korea. They are not only Swiss, but also Koreans and expats from different countries.
I'm also keen on promoting the image and culture of Switzerland to the Korean general public. Koreans are aware of Switzerland, but it seems that they are not informed about the country. Thanks to the mass media and personal networking, Koreans have a good image of the country, and we have so far a 64 percent increase in visitors from Korea. We just had a children's event, which is also good for the PR and culture. We want to share what we are with the Korean general public. Switzerland is a small country, unlike the United States, the United Kingdom or Germany. Stories about these big countries are everywhere on a daily basis. To gain that kind of publicity, we need to be keen on choosing the activity. Korea just had the Skills Olympiad, and next year, it will be held in Switzerland. That's a good connection for Korea to Switzerland.
The third point is politics. Both the Swiss and Koreans have vague ideas or images about each other. Over the past 50 years, 800 Swiss officers have served at the DMZ, where a number of international events have taken place. We'd like to encourage bilateral direct talks between North and South Korea. We have a positive attitude toward talks between the two, and we are ready to assist in a solution.
Switzerland has been at peace for the past 200 years, and that neutrality helped us. The word neutrality becomes an issue to many people outside Switzerland, and I didn't realize that until Korean university students asked about it. I was amazed to feel that here.
IHT-JAI: What do you look forward to?
Muhlethaler: We're looking forward to the FIFA World Cup, which has its headquarters in Zurich. We were thinking of having someone fly by a balloon from Korea to Japan, which has never been attempted. But it involves much danger, so technically it will be very difficult. Besides, the Swiss team has not qualified for the tournament, so it's not going to be easy to come up with an event that we feel that's just right.
I have been selected as the chairman of the International Ski Festival in Yongpyeong, which will take place from Feb. 1 to 3, 2002. Downhill skiing, cross country and even snowboarding competitions are open to everyone. I definitely look forward to that!
Mr. Muhlethaler is married to Ruth and has three children, Anna-Katharina, 21, Hans-Jakob, 19 and Karl-Ludwig, 16.
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