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Eastern trade winds
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 09 - 03 - 2006

President of the Republic of Korea Roh 's unprecedented visit to Egypt, is part of a three-nation African tour which also includes Algeria and Nigeria. This is the first visit by a Korean president to Egypt, and President Roh's African tour is mostly focused on energy, security, trade and cooperation between Korea and Africa. Indeed, Nigeria -- Africa's largest oil producer and Algeria are among Korea's leading trading partners in Africa. Roh, who took office in February 2003 is determined to expand trade and technical cooperation with African countries. He met President Hosni Mubarak on Monday. Kamal Gaballa conducted an exclusive interview with the visiting Korean President
Do you think that your visit, the first by a Korean President in the 5,000-year history of Egypt, will mark a new milestone in the friendship, dialogue, and cultural exchange and cooperation between Cairo and Seoul?
Yes, I believe so very much. I am very pleased to have an opportunity to be the first Korean President to visit Egypt. Korea and Egypt established diplomatic relations in 1995. Since then, the two countries have developed friendship and cooperative relations at a rapid pace. I think President Hosni Mubarak's visit to Korea in April 1999 served as a good opportunity to cement bilateral friendship.
At the scheduled summit, I intend to discuss substantive ways to boost future-oriented cooperation and consolidate the bilateral cooperative system. I hope that my visit to Egypt this time will lay a cornerstone to further expand bilateral cooperation in various fields such as culture and tourism as well as politics and economy.
In an interview with Al-Ahram two years ago, you expressed concerns about declining investments and trade between Korea and Egypt. Is it safe to say that your visit to Egypt will expand the horizon between the two countries, especially in such fields as trade, investment and information technology?
Korea is emerging as an economic hub of Northeast Asia. Egypt is a key country in the Middle East, serving as a gateway to Europe, Africa and Asia. There are many areas requiring cooperation between our two countries. Bilateral trade has continued to grow, reaching $910 million last year. There has been a slight lull in Korean investments in Egypt since 2000. It is expected, however, that Korean companies will invest more in Egypt in the years to come as the country has a great growth potential and is pursuing economic reform policy to improve the investment environment.
Especially, Korean business leaders will accompany me on this visit to Egypt. The Korea- Egypt Business Council is scheduled to hold an IT Forum to seek ways to promote cooperation. I expect these events will serve as a good opportunity to come up with ways to enhance and develop cooperation in diverse areas, including trade, investment and information technology.
The Korean government has shown increasing interest in the Middle East. Will this interest be conducive to bringing about a just and permanent peace in the region and advance the goals of social and economic development?
The Korean Government expects that a just and permanent peace in the region can be achieved as an independent nation for the Palestinian people is established through the implementation of the Middle East peace road map based on the Quartet agreement. To this end, Israelis and Palestinians must engage in serious negotiations.
The Korean Government elevated the bilateral relationship with Palestine to diplomatic representation when the Korean Foreign Minister visited Palestine last June. Subsequently, the Palestinian Foreign Minister made a reciprocal visit to Seoul in October 2005, furthering the ties between Korea and Palestine.
The Korean Government recognises that the economic and social development of Palestine is a prerequisite to any peace settlement in the Middle East. In 2004, we offered $5 million in special aid to Palestine in a bid to improve the living standard of the Palestinian people and to help reconstruct Palestine. Additional financial support of $6 million will be provided in a foreseeable future.
President Hosni Mubarak has made many suggestions for international consultations at international conferences to eradicate terrorism and remove weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). To what extent have the two governments come to an understanding and adjustment of their positions in these two areas?
Egypt and Korea both recognise that the spread of any types of terrorism and WMDs is a major threat to international security. To cope with these threats, the two countries are actively participating in various international and multilateral for a for arms-reduction and non-proliferation, such as the IAEA, the First Committee of the UN General Assembly, and the Geneva Conference on Disarmament.
The Korean government firmly supports all international efforts to crack down and punish terrorists and fully understands the Egyptian government's position that a high-level inter- governmental conference should be held under the auspices of the United Nations. We believe that this kind of meeting will certainly contribute to strengthening international endeavors to prevent terrorism.
The Korean government hopes that the Comprehensive Convention Against Terrorism now being prepared by the United Nations will be completed at an earliest date as a means of establishing viable international norms and systems against international terrorism. Korea intends to coordinate with Egypt its position on this issue.
Regarding the North Korean nuclear programme, you have emphasised all along that the issue has to be solved peacefully through dialogue. You have voiced objection to any measures to forcibly change the North Korean regime. Where does the Six-Party Talks stand now as far as the efforts to bring about a peaceful solution are concerned?
The Korean government has been striving to peacefully solve the issues involving North Korea's nuclear programme through various diplomatic channels, including the Six-Party Talks that has been held in Beijing among South Korea, North Korea, the United States, China, Russia and Japan. All along, Korea has maintained three guiding principles. First, North Korea should not be allowed to develop a nuclear weapons program. Second, the nuclear issue should be solved through peaceful means. Third, South Korea should play a proactive and leading role in solving the issue, which directly affects the country.
The Six-Party Talks is the most realistic and useful scheme for consultation to fundamentally resolve the nuclear issue. It produced good results when the six participants adopted a Joint Statement on September 19, 2005. What is most important for the participants in future is to engage in negotiations for the implementation of the substance of the Joint Statement and materialise it into concrete action. To this end, the participants already held the first implementation meeting during the fifth round of the Talks last November.
The September 19 Joint Statement reflects in a comprehensive and balanced manner the interests of the six parties as well as their willingness to implement the agreements. In future negotiations, while there could be some ups and downs, given the sincere efforts of all the participants, a common objective of denuclearising the Korean Peninsula is expected to be achieved in the not-too-distant future.
In the New Year press conference, you stated that your Administration is endeavouring to induce a secure environment for the Korean Peninsula under the guiding principles of balanced diplomacy, self-reliant national defense and inter-Korean trust. What is your vision for security in the region?
The Korean government has consistently carried out foreign and national security polices under three principles -- self-reliant defense, balanced diplomacy and trust building between South and North Korea. Early on, my Administration adopted the Policy of Peace and Prosperity that encompasses all of Northeast Asia as well as the Korean Peninsula. To realise this, we felt it imperative first and foremost to peacefully solve the North Korean nuclear issue in cooperation with the neighboring countries. When the nuclear issue is settled, a peace regime will be established on the entire Korean Peninsula, which in turn should definitely help expedite the process of peace and prosperity in all of Northeast Asia.
The Korean government's efforts for peace and common prosperity will continue through the Six-Party Talks and through stepped-up inter- Korean exchanges. Enhancing inter-Korean cooperation and exchanges should help reduce military tension between the two Koreas and boost mutual trust.
Over the years, economic development of the Republic of Korea has been phenomenal and has given the Korean people hope and courage. How advanced is the Korean economy? What can the developing countries learn from the Korean experience?
During the past four decades, Korea has continued to enjoy economic development and now emerged as the 11th largest economy in the world. The country is very competitive globally, especially in electronics, automobiles, shipbuilding, steel production and other core industries. Last year alone, the volume of our international trade reached $500 billion. Korea is very close to joining the most advanced group of industrial nations. In 1970, our per capita income was only $254, which has jumped drastically to $14,162 in 2004.
This rapid development is remarkable considering that Korea has a relatively small land area and insufficient natural resources. The phenomenal growth is attributable to giving a priority to export-oriented industries, nurturing growth-engine industries, and investing massively in human resource development. This strategy may still be valid for other developing countries as well. In other words, the government and the business will first have to forge effective partnership and focus on nurturing growth engine industries. Once policies are formulated, they will have to actively carry them out.
Korea is willing to share its experiences with other developing countries and intends to offer substantive assistance to support their socio- economic progress. We have been supporting the development of human resources and the medical and public health conditions in some of the underdeveloped areas in Africa. We also plan to expand our assistance to Africa gradually and substantially in the future.


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