Korea in the spotlightPresident Roh is beginning today the first state visit ever of a President of the Republic of Korea to Spain. King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia were in Seoul in 1996; 11 years later their royal visit has been reciprocated.
Apart from the chief of state, President Roh will meet Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, together with some ministers of the Spanish government, the president of the Spanish Senate and the mayor of Madrid and will open a meeting of the Bilateral Committee of Businessmen.
President Roh’s visit takes place on an auspicious occasion because next Wednesday the world-famous Madrid Fair of Contemporary Art is opening its doors to gallerists and collectors. Korea will be at the center stage of the fair as a guest country (the first Asian country to be invited ever) for 2007.
Taking advantage of that important fact, Korea has organized a splendid cultural program, entitled “Korea Now,” showing Korean art in the most important institutions in Madrid, such as Fine Arts Circle, the Reina Sofia Museum or Telefonica Foundation, and covering all the artistic fields: visual arts, music, poetry, cinema and others. All this will mean around 20 different cultural activities and events featuring some 50 Korean artists.
I am completely certain that the Spanish people will warmly welcome this pacific, cultural Korean “invasion” for three reasons.
The first is that Spain is experiencing a growing curiosity about Asia. Only a few years ago, the foreign interest of my country was mainly limited ― apart, of course from the European Union ― to Latin America, for obvious historical and civilizational reasons, and to the Mediterranean basin, so conflict-torn at its eastern extreme. But thanks to careful planning done by the Spanish government through its “Asia Plan,” which has developed a great deal of initiatives ― like the founding in Barcelona of Casa Asia, the House of Asia ― Spanish civil society has been able to change its perceptions, gradually molding a true popular approach to Asian countries.
Asia is today “in fashion” in my country. It is a fashion, I have to admit, predominantly centered on China. It is now time to correct that, giving to the other Asian nations the proper role that they should acquire, as is certainly the case for Korea.
Second, Korea is only partially known in Spain, through very concrete industrial products (Spanish streets are jammed with Korean cars). Korean companies are very much appreciated for their good performance, service and fair price. Households are full of plasma TV screens, and more and more Spaniards carry a Korean mobile phone in their pockets. Korean technology is highly admired in Spain, an admiration which goes hand in hand with the esteem for the Han River Miracle: the quick development of a country which has run in a parallel way with Spanish development.
Third, from these assumptions, Spain and Korea share a very close position in the world. Korea is the 11th-largest economy on the planet, Spain the eighth. But it’s not only a matter of economic parallels. It is a matter of social, political and cultural development which place the two countries in the best situation to articulate a number of strategic partnerships, in the many fields of our bilateral relations.
Despite a dramatic imbalance in our trade relations, largely favorable to Korea, there is a great deal of room to improve it. Reciprocal investments in both countries are increasing. The flow of Korean tourists to Spain, a country that receives every year 55 million visitors, is growing as well. And, last but not least, the interest in Spanish culture and mainly in the Spanish language is very impressive. In the near future, Spain is planning to open, in Seoul, a Cervantes Institute or Spanish cultural center.
Definitely, the presence today of President Roh in Madrid, with a big delegation of businessmen and a good package of bilateral agreements to sign, will be accompanied by the best proof ― through art and culture ― of Korean creativity.
And creativity is, at the end, the best asset that two countries like Korea and Spain, not only with a long and glorious history but with a bright present and a better future, can share and enjoy together.
Delfin Colome Ambassador of Spain