Friends on the pitch and the battlefield
According to the British Embassy, the Korean government hired Britons for some interesting jobs in the 1890s. A British engineer for a short period of time worked as the chief electric lighting engineer for Gyeongbok Palace. Another Briton, Lt. Callwell of the Royal Marines, drilled Korean soldiers, and he is also remembered, along with a missionary, as the man who trained the first Korean football players.
The Korea-U.K. relationship dates back centuries, but ties were cemented during the Korean War and through continuing developments in trade, investment, political, educational and cultural exchanges.
The first contact between Britain and Korea was made in 1797 when Captain William Broughton and his crew landed in Busan during their voyage around the North Pacific and the Asian region.
In the decades that followed, more British visitors came to Korea, bringing Western culture to the country - and the Bible along with them - with the first arriving in 1832. In the 1870s, Rev. John Ross, a missionary in North China, was the first to translate the Gospel into Korean.
According to the British Embassy, the first British diplomat to visit Korea was Joseph Longford, the consul at Nagasaki, in 1875. Longford met with hostility from Koreans, as had earlier visitors. After tough negotiations, the two governments signed a treaty of friendship, commerce and navigation in 1883 that would form the legal basis on which all foreigners lived in Korea until 1910.
After the Japanese annexation of Korea, British influence diminished. But while foreign companies’ operations in Korea suffered greatly during the colonial period, Western missionary activity continued to grow.
During the period between Korean liberation and the Korean War, Korea and Britain revived ties. Following the establishment of the Republic of Korea in 1948, the two countries exchanged legations.
The Korean War bound the two together in blood, as the British government condemned the North Korean invasion and deployed 87,000 troops to fight in the conflict. Over 1,000 British servicemen lost their lives during the fierce battles, and Britain was second only to the United States in contributions made to the United Nations’ effort in Korea.
Because of the British support for South Korea during the conflict, the relationship of the two countries continued to deepen. In 1957, the governments upgraded their diplomatic missions to embassies, a symbolic opening of a new era of friendship.
The two countries’ cultural and business exchanges also burgeoned rapidly, so that by 2005, more than 17,000 Koreans were studying in British schools, and many of them also benefited from British government scholarships.
A landmark event in the Korea-U.K. bilateral relationship took place in April 1999, when Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, embarked on a state visit to Korea. The royal couple received a passionate welcome in Korea, participating in various traditional cultural tours. The highlight of that event in many Koreans’ minds was the Queen’s visit to Hahoe village in Andong, North Gyeongsang, where she attended a folk culture performance and a kimchi making session.
Along with cultural exchanges, economic cooperation between the two countries has also been deepening. In 1982, the British Chamber of Commerce in Korea was established, reflecting significant growth in the two countries’ business ties. In 1964, bilateral trade volume was less than $10 million a year, but that figure grew rapidly. In 2009, Korea’s imports from Britain were worth $2.9 billion, and Korea exported $3.8 billion in goods to the country, according to the Korea International Trade Association.
The latest episode in this long bilateral friendship came last month, when Korean President Lee Myung-bak and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown joined together with their counterparts in Canada, France and the United States to issue a letter to the Group of 20. In this joint letter, the leaders urged the member economies to reaffirm international cooperation through the G-20 forum to help the global economy recover from the financial crisis.
By Ser Myo-ja [firstname.lastname@example.org]