Park reaches out to African nations

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Park reaches out to African nations

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President Park Geun-hye, right, ushers Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, left, into the meeting room of the Blue House yesterday for a meeting. [Joint Press Corps]

President Park Geun-hye yesterday kicked off her government’s diplomatic campaign for Africa, hosting a summit with President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda to expand Korea’s economic, trade and energy cooperation with the resource-rich country.

Park invited Ugandan President Museveni to visit Korea this week, making him the first foreign head of state to hold a summit with Park at the Blue House since her inauguration in February. Armando Guebuza, president of Mozambique, was also invited to visit Korea from Monday through June 6.

The summits with the African leaders show Park’s efforts to highlight the importance of Africa for Korea’s diplomacy. “Africa is a treasure chest of enormous resources and the last remaining growth engine of the world by keeping a high-growth rate,” the Blue House said last week in a statement when the summits were announced.

“Africa has emerged as an important cooperative partner for Korea,” the presidential office said. “Uganda and Mozambique are exemplary countries with political stability and rapid economic growth, and they have high potential to cooperate with Korea in various economic fields of energy and infrastructure.”

The Blue House stressed that Park’s decision to host the African leaders as her first guests is in line with her philosophy to pursue the happiness of the global community by building mutually beneficial ties with developing countries.

Korea tied its diplomatic knot with Uganda 50 years ago and with Mozambique two decades ago.

At the center of the Park administration’s diplomatic campaign to engage Africa is a decades-old initiative used by her father, the late President Park Chung Hee, to modernize the rural economy of Korea. The Saemaeul Movement, also known as the New Village Movement, launched in 1970, will be used by the Park Geun-hye government to engage African nations and support their development, the Blue House said.

Visits to the Rural Development Administration and the Saemaeul Movement Center were an important part of Ugandan President Museveni’s schedule during his three-day stay in Korea along with field tours to key Korean companies, as the country with an average 7 percent growth rate showed particular interests in the Saemaul Movement.

During Park’s summit and luncheon with Museveni yesterday, it was also discussed as an important agenda to improve the two countries’ cooperation.

“I was told that President Museveni often mentions Korea as an example of Uganda’s economic development,” Park said during the luncheon. “The United Nations and other international organizations such as the UN Economic Commission for Africa selected the Saemaeul Movement of Korea as the model to modernize farming villages and develop the economy.”

“If Uganda, known for its great climate, fertile land and the people’s diligence, succeeds in modernizing its rural communities through the Saemaeul Movement, I believe it will be transformed into the breadbasket of Africa,” Park said. “And Korea will fully cooperate with the process.”

Praising Korea’s rapid economic transformation over the past decades, particularly during the rule of Park’s father, Museveni said yesterday that Uganda is ready to cooperate with Korea in all areas by following its development model.

Before the luncheon, foreign ministers of the two countries also signed an agreement for grant aid between the two countries to establish a strategy for Uganda’s agricultural industry.

Since this month, the Park government repeatedly stressed the importance of Africa in Korea’s diplomacy.

During her meeting with senior secretaries on Monday, Park said the time has come for Korea to upgrade its diplomacy by expanding its horizon to a broader area, including Africa. At the time, she also said Korea must provide tailor-made assistance to African countries by sharing its expertise in economic growth.

When she attended a trade promotion meeting on May 1, Park also urged Korean enterprises to make more aggressive moves to enter the African market.

The Foreign Affairs Ministry also launched a club, “Friends of Africa,” last week to promote the importance of the continent to the Korean companies. “If you are not investing in Africa today, it’s like failing to invest in China in the 1990s and failing to invest in India in the 2000s,” Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se said at the launch ceremony of the network on Monday.

Not only Korea, but also the major superpowers around the world have paid special interest in the continent, which is rich in energy and natural resources. Its cheap labor and expanding market for rapidly growing consumption also attract foreign investments.

China, in particular, has paid special attention to Africa. Since 1993, Chinese leaders made routine visits to the continent to expand its influence. Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Africa in March shortly after he took the office.

China is Africa’s largest trade partner. In 2012, China-Africa trade amounted to $198.4 billion and China invested $108 billion in Africa for energy, mining, transportation and housing projects.

Korea’s trade with Africa, although small in comparison to that of China, has continued to rise. In 2000, the Korea-Africa trade was about $5 billion, but in 2012, the amount grew to $14.6 billion.

Following the visit by the leader of Uganda, Park will receive another African leader, President Guebuza of Mozambique, next month. Korean firms are planning to enter the energy market in the country, which Korea selected last year as its priority in economic cooperation.

Korea’s trade with Mozambique has gone up by 500 percent from $24 million in 2007 to $110 million last year. “Through the two summits, the government will seek to support the Korean enterprises’ entrances to the African markets,” said Kim Haing, presidential spokeswoman. “At the same time, we want to establish a more mutually beneficial cooperation tie with the region.”


By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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