Korea reaches out to Cook Islands

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Korea reaches out to Cook Islands

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Korea is expected to establish diplomatic relations with the Cook Islands, a tiny group of islands located in the South Pacific Ocean, this year, a senior official at Seoul’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said yesterday.

The deal would make the Cook Islands the 190th country to enter into diplomatic ties with Korea.

“We plan to officially establish diplomatic ties with the Cook Islands as early as later this month or at least before early next month as soon as the [Korean] president gives approval,” the senior official told the JoongAng Ilbo yesterday.

“The proposal [to start diplomatic relations with the Cook Islands] was passed at the cabinet meeting last month.”

The official explained that the remaining procedure after President Lee Myung-bak’s approval would be to have the Korean Ambassador in New Zealand visit the Cook Islands and announce the co-signing of the establishment of diplomatic ties.

The Cook Islands, which are northeast of New Zealand, are made up of 15 small islands. The total land area of the islands is 236 square kilometers (58,316 acres), and they are spread over 2.2 million square kilometers of ocean.

The country’s capital is Avarua and the total population of the country is nearly 20,000. The Cook Islands is a self-governing country in free association with New Zealand. It has its own administrative system but the people living there are citizens of New Zealand.

The country became well known to the public after Kwon Yul, a 37-year-old Korean American working for the Federal Communications Commission, starred in CBS’s popular reality show “Survivor,” which took place on the Cook Islands in 2006.

Though the Cook Islands are considered a remote nation to many Koreans, diplomats highly appraise the strategic value of the country, which is why the United States and China have been in competition to establish a larger presence in the South Pacific waters that include the Cook Islands.

The area is known to have abundant marine resources. Also, the Cook Islands are a member of 20 international organizations, including the World Health Organization and the Asia Development Bank, and have the right to vote over issues put on the table. They are also pushing to become a member of the United Nations in 2015.

In August, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the Cook Islands to represent Washington in the Pacific Islands Forum.

By Chang Se-jeong [angie@joongang.co.kr]

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