[Viewpoint] Welcome, President Medvedev!

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[Viewpoint] Welcome, President Medvedev!

It was a major event in the history of world diplomacy when Korea and the Soviet Union surprised the international community by signing a formal diplomatic relationship on Sept. 30, 1990. Established on different ideologies and systems, Korea and the Soviet Union had been hostile to each other.

But what does Russia mean to Korea? What will Russia and Korea be like ten years from now? What will the relationship between the two nations be like fifty years from now? Before we answer these fundamental questions, we need to ask ourselves: “How much do we know about Russia, and how much does Russia know about Korea?”

It is true that the most Koreans and Russians have little understanding and consideration for the other nation. In the two decades since diplomatic relations were established, Korea and Russia have alternated between happy anticipation and disappointment with each other. After many ups and downs, the two countries’ relationship moved onto a “strategic partnership and cooperation” when President Lee Myung-bak visited Russia in September 2008.

At present, 130,000 people travel between Korea and Russia annually, and the trade between the two countries has grown to $18 billion. There have been brisk exchanges on the government side and in the fields of economy, science and technology.

Achievements become evident here and there. In September, Hyundai Motor’ completed a manufacturing plant in St. Petersburg. Daewoo Shipping and Marine Engineering and Russia’s United Shipbuilding Corporation are partnering in shipbuilding. Korea is importing gas from Sakhalin Oblast and petroleum from Eastern Siberia.

President Lee made a speech at the Global Policy Forum held in Yaroslavl in early September, and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is scheduled to visit Korea in early November. Celebrating the 20th anniversary of diplomatic ties, the two countries are ready to open up a new chapter in the bilateral relationship. For example, after the summit meeting, the two countries will sign an agreement on temporary employment for Russians and Koreans.

The agreement is expected to drastically improve the visa situation for Korean businessmen traveling to Russia. It is a symbol of how rapidly friendship and trust between Korea and Russia are developing.

In order to expand and develop the strategic partnership further, there are many things to be done by the two countries. First, exchanges in culture, arts, broadcasting and sports should be drastically expanded. Resources should be invested constantly for an extended period of time for systematic expansion. Understanding and learning about each other will be the best basis for cooperation.

Increased economic cooperation and exchanges are also important. This year’s trade volume between the two countries is likely to reach 2008 levels - the highest trade volume in history at $18 billion. That’s an 80 percent increase compared to the previous year. Korea and Russia expect to expand trade to $30 billion by 2012.

Korea’s investment in Russia is $1.5 billion while Russia has made only $44 million of investment in Korea. Investments between the two countries should grow much more. Russia, especially, needs to expand investment in Korea to diversify and enhance the safety of its portfolio. The Yongsan Station business hub, Songdo International Business District in Incheon, Saemangeum, environmentally friendly industries and high-tech companies will be great investment options.

In order to build a true strategic partnership, Korea and Russia need to pay special attention to what they can be to each other. Korea can make a great contribution in Russia’s economic modernization and development of its far eastern territories. Russia will be very helpful in securing energy and other resources for Korea. While all policies should be based on theories of the market economy, each of the countries will be able to attain great accomplishments by showing a strong commitment and consideration for the partner.

There also should be meaningful cooperation on North Korean issues and regional challenges. Koreans expect a constructive Russian role in the denuclearization of North Korea, the establishment of a peaceful security system in Northeast Asia and the reunification of the Korean Peninsula.

The gas pipeline, electricity grid and railway projects connecting Russia and South Korea via North Korea will provide enormous economic benefits to all parties and contribute greatly to peace in the region. We can start by pushing for the gas pipeline construction first, as the project has clear suppliers and users, stable supplies of resources and obvious benefits to the participating nations.

I hope that both Koreans and Russians gain a better understanding of the other country. When you acknowledge and respect differences and deepen interests and trust for each other, the relationship will become more sincere and constructive. Unlimited possibilities await Korea and Russia in the future. It is the happy duty of citizens of each country to make these possibilities come true.

Along with all Korean citizens, I sincerely welcome President Medvedev to Korea.

*The writer is the ambassador of the Republic of Korea to Russia.

By Lee Yun-ho
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