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NZ Asia Institute Conference celebrates the New Zealand – Korea "Year of Friendship" 16-17 November 2012

HE Mr Yongkyu Park keynote address

Prof. Stuart McCutcheon, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Auckland, Ambassador Andrea Smith, Deputy Secretary of MFAT, Prof. Hugh Whittaker, Director of NZ Asia Institute,
Dr. Richard Phillips, Director of the Korean Studies, Distinguished participants, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to, first of all, express my sincere thanks to the NZ Asia Institute and the University of Auckland for hosting this conference on the happy occasion of the Korea-New Zealand Year of Friendship marking the 50th anniversary of the diplomatic ties between our two countries.

I also wish to take this opportunity to convey my appreciation to the University of Auckland and Asia Institute for their contributions in promoting friendship and mutual understanding between us as the centre of the Korean studies in New Zealand.

This conference provides us a timely opportunity to reflect upon our achievements in the past half century as well as to prepare for our shared future in the next half century.  I am very pleased to partake in this exciting intellectual exercise to share ideas and wisdom with the most knowledgeable scholars and experts on various issues of our mutual interest.

I titled my speech “Korea-New Zealand Partnership in the Asia-Pacific Era” in line with the key theme of the Conference. Today I wish to share my thoughts on three key topics; First, I wish to make a brief observation on the current situation in the Asia-Pacific region and discuss the major opportunities and challenges confronting us. Second, I will see what roles our two countries could play and what contributions we could make in the region. Third and finally, I wish to review the current state of our partnership and its future vision.

Arrival of the Asia-Pacific Era and challenges

It is rather a cliché to say that the 21st century is the Asia-Pacific century. Almost half of the world population lives in the region, 57% of world GDP, 48% of global trade and 40% of foreign investment are produced by the Asia-Pacific countries. They are critical engines of the global economy. Despite global economic slowdown and the Euro-zone crisis, the Asia-Pacific economies are sustaining relatively strong growth, providing critical relief for the world economy.

Along with growing economic clout, the Asia-Pacific is playing a greater role in the world affairs. US Secretary of State. Mrs. Clinton rightly said the Asia-Pacific has become a key driver of global politics. Indeed the balance of power in global economy and politics is rapidly shifting to the Asia-Pacific, particularly since the 2008 global financial crisis. However all is not well in the Asia-Pacific. What are the problems and challenges confronting the region?

The most striking feature in the Asia-Pacific region is the mismatch and divide between economics and politics. Economic interdependence is growing and diverse efforts are being made for deeper integration.
At the same time, the region is fraught with heightened tensions, territorial disputes, rising nationalism and arms race. In short, both stabilizing factors and destabilizing factors coexist, which provide opportunities as well as challenges for us.

On the positive side, there have been continuous efforts to strengthen regional cooperation architecture in various fields ranging from economic integration, military confidence-building, coping with common challenges like climate change to strengthening people to people links.

Proliferation of intra-regional organizations is a most distinctive feature, to some extent overlapping in membership and scope of activities. To name only a few: ASEAN+3, APEC, EAS, ARF, ADMM+.
There are also wide-ranging bilateral and multilateral FTA networks, some already in force and others on the drawing board such as TPP, EAFTA, CEPEA, RCEP, and FTAAP.

 These cooperative frameworks provide historic opportunities for peace and co-prosperity of the Asia-Pacific countries. However, the region is facing serious risks and challenges as well. I will briefly touch upon three of the most talked about challenges confronting us right now.

The most urgent challenge is maritime territorial disputes between and among the countries in the region with no signs of amicable early resolution. Especially disputes between China and Japan in the East China Sea and between China and several ASEAN countries in the South China Sea are not only threatening stability in the region but also taking toll on their economies as a whole. What can we do?

Each dispute has its unique historical, nationalistic, geo-strategic and economic compulsions, so there is no one-size-fits-all solution. In my view, these disputes are more about national identity, history, pride and sentiments than economic or strategic interests and legal justification. Accordingly, the first step for peaceful solution is to have a correct understanding of historical backgrounds and to try to understand the other party’s feelings.

The US-China relation poses more fundamental long term challenge.
There is a growing concern that US-China relations might deteriorate with the rise of China and the US rebalancing toward Asia. Despite their deep economic interdependence and mutual recognition of the need for constructive partnership, they might fall into a classic great power game due to their rivalry and strategic competition in the region.

The key question is how China will use its rapidly growing economic, military, and diplomatic powers? Will it remain faithful to peaceful rise or take more aggressive policies pursuing prestige and influence as a global power? To ask the question from the other side, how the West and the US will respond to China’s inevitable rise?

The big challenge for many countries in the region including Korea and New Zealand is how to harmonize their relations with the US and China. For Korea, China is the largest trading and economic partner with US$ 220 Billion trade volume in 2011, which is more than its trades with US and Japan combined. China is also a crucial diplomatic partner for peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and peaceful resolution of the North Korean question, which I will address shortly.

On the other hand, Korea-US security alliance is the linchpin of Korea’s security and the US is a major economic partner with a FTA. In addition, US-Korea partnership based upon shared values is developing into a global partnership in addressing global challenges like proliferation of WMD, terrorism, piracy, peace-keeping, climate change and development assistance.

In short, major deterioration of US-China relations will pose unpalatable dilemmas for all of us. It is our common interest to do whatever we can to avoid this worst case scenario.

The third challenge is North Korea. North Korea remains the major source of instability and threat to peace in the Asia-Pacific. North Korea poses four sets of challenges to us. First is its nuclear and missile program, which I will not go into details right now as this topic will be discussed in another Session.

Second is its continued conventional provocations, the latest cases were the torpedoing South Korean navy ship Cheoan and shelling of Yeonpyong island  in 2010, which once again reminded us grave threats posed by North Korea..

Third is its domestic instability due to dysfunctional political and economic systems inherited by the 3th generation dynastic succession to young new leader Kim Jong-Un. There are some speculations that Kim might change policies for the better as he is showing different style from his father. However, it is too early to tell if his new style will lead to new policies.

The last challenge is its humanitarian problems; the worst human rights conditions, chronic hunger and refugees crossing the border to China, which sometimes create diplomatic friction between South Korea and China.

The international community has been struggling with the complex North Korean question for more than 60 years without much success. We have been trying to resolve peacefully the North Korean nuclear issue for 2 decades, again without result. No wonder many North Korean watchers are calling it a mission impossible. But we can’t give up. Like a Greek myth of Sisyphus, we have to keep on rolling the stone upward until it is firmly anchored on top of the mountain.

Role of Korea and NZ in the Asia Pacific

 Now let me turn to the second topic of the roles of our two countries in this era of the Asia-Pacific. The transformation of Korea from Hermit Kingdom to Global Korea is legendary. Building upon her economic power as the 15th largest economy, the 9th  largest trading country with a trillion US dollars trade volume, the 7th member of 2050 club, Korea is playing increasingly proactive role in the Asia -Pacific and globally.

Under the slogan of “Global Korea”, Korea has been expanding its diplomatic horizons and enhancing leadership role in the world stage as host of summits like Seoul G20 in 2010, Busan High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in 2011, Seoul Nuclear Security Summit in 2012, Pre-Cop18 in 2012 to name a few. Recent election to UNSC non-permanent seat for 2013-2014 is the latest manifestation of its growing diplomatic influence.

Korea is also emerging as an agenda-setter of global issues like climate change, green growth and development assistance. The recent selection of Songdo town near Incheon airport as the seat of GCF Secretariat and launching of GGGI as international organization are prime examples of Korea’s pioneering role as an architect of new global governance.

Last but not least, Korea is emerging as a global soft power and cultural icon. As the latest global sensation PSY’s Gangnam Style demonstrates, the Korean Wave 한류 is spreading to all corners of the world. I look forward to Session 5 which will address this topic.

Korea is playing proactive roles in most of the regional organizations as one of the founding members and as a bridge between advanced and developing countries. Its unique position as a Middle Power and experience as an aid recipient turned donor country makes Korea a most reliable partner for many countries in the region where majority is still developing countries.

Korea’s goal and vision for the Asia-Pacific is to contribute to promoting a community spirit, identity and cooperative architecture, and developing the region as a zone of peace, stability and co-prosperity

New Zealand is playing a constructive role in the region as core member of many regional institutions. New Zealand is recognized for its roles as agenda setter and bridge-builder by utilizing her unique position as Asia-Pacific country geographically and economically, while maintaining her cultural and historical traditions as European country.

 Korea and New Zealand are ideal partners since we share strategic interests and visions as small and medium sized countries supporting multilateralism. Now let me turn to my last topic of Korea-New Zealand bilateral relations in the context of the Asia- Pacific era.

Korea-New Zealand Partnership and its future vision

Let me first say that Korea and New Zealand have all the necessary conditions for mutually beneficial and lasting partnership. We share not only interests but also values such as democracy and open free market economy. Our relationship is based upon strong ties as comrades-in-arms formed during the Korean War. These historical ties bound us together and guided us to develop our relations in three key areas over the past 60 years.
First, we are one of the most reliable and consistent political and diplomatic partner sharing principles, goals, and policies. As active members of the Asia-Pacific community, we are closely cooperating in many global and regional forums to cope with our common challenges. 

Second, we are important economic partner sharing basic positions and mutual benefits with complementary economic structures. Korea is now New Zealand’s 5th largest trading partner with the volume of 3.3 billion New Zealand dollars.

However, I hasten to point out that this amount pales in comparison to Korea’s total foreign trade volume of 1 trillion US dollars. Our investment relations are also insignificant considering Korea’s total foreign direct investment of 240 billion US dollars.

Third, Korea and New Zealand share many features in their cultural and social lives. We both place high priority on education and cultural diversity. It is natural that our academic, cultural ties and people to people links have been continuously expanding. About 60,000 Koreans visited New Zealand last year which is the 7th largest foreign visitors to New Zealand, and more than 12,000 Korean students are studying in New Zealand, the second largest group of international students.

There are also more than 30,000 ethnic Koreans residing in New Zealand. They are recognized as valuable assets for New Zealand by actively contributing to the New Zealand society. Many KOWIS (Korean Kiwis) distinguished themselves in politics, arts, sports and academic fields like Melissa Lee as a second term MP and Lydia Ko as a world class golfer.

This is a snapshot of our relations at present. We can conclude that the state of our relations is very positive and healthy. But is it enough? I think not. There is great room for growth, especially in economic relations and people to people links. Then what we have to do to realize our potential?

Challenges and vision for our shared future

To answer this question, I wish to share my thinking on two weak links in our relationship. The first is the gap in our mutual perceptions and the second is differences in our mindset, life style and geo-strategic environments.

Early this year, I read two interesting reports released by NZTE and Asia NZ Foundation on our mutual perception. Focusing on economic aspects, NZTE report concluded that New Zealand is losing market share in Korea sidelined by stronger and more committed countries such as Chile and Australia. It advised that full commitment and more aggressive focus on Korea is necessary to compete in the Korean market. I think this report well reflects the general perception of New Zealand in Korea; attractive destination for holidays and education but not for business.

The second report by Asia NZ Foundation about the perception of the Asian peoples and countries in New Zealand was a wake-up call for me. Korea was far behind many other Asian countries in terms of recognition and favourable image.

The main reasons were so-called Korea Discount, geopolitical risks caused by North Korea and controversy involving the Korean fishing vessel’s operation in New Zealand. I also realized that not many Kiwis have opportunities to see for themselves the dramatic transformation of Korea since the Korean War.

I decided to give a higher priority on public diplomacy targeting the general public and young generation. I gave lectures on Korea and Korea-New Zealand relations at universities and institutions. My embassy also strengthened public outreach and information activities by utilizing social media networks like facebook and electronic newsletters.

In celebration of the Year of Friendship, my embassy also organized several cultural and academic events such as performances by traditional Korean music and dance group Gongmyung, Philharmonic Orchestra, Korean Food Festival and Film Festival. I hope that our efforts will contribute to enhancing awareness and recognition of Korea by New Zealanders. But it takes two to tango. I wish more Kiwis choose Korea as their OE destination, and learn the Korean language, culture and history.

Second differences between Korea and New Zealand are their historical experiences and geo-strategic environments. Located at the crossroad of East Asia, Korea has one of the most challenging environments with a long history of struggles against neighbouring big powers for its survival and independence. In contrast, New Zealand is blessed with one of the most peaceful environment even though its geographical isolation is a handicap as well.

In my view this difference explains contrasting mindsets and national traits between us. Good examples are different paces of life, approaches to work, and priorities in life. Korea is probably the most competitive, dynamic and over working country in the world. Koreans think fast, act faster and more result-oriented, while New Zealanders are deliberate and prone to procedural finesse, which might sometimes create a gap in our mutual understanding.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I outlined the latest developments in our region and their implications for our relationship as well as opportunities and challenges for our future partnership. Obviously I posed more questions than gave answers. I hope this Conference will help us to find some answers to the questions I raised.

To summarize, Korea and New Zealand share opportunities and challenges as core members of the Asia-Pacific community. In order to make best of the opportunities and to meet the challenges successfully, we need to reinvigorate our joint efforts to further deepen mutual understanding, recognizing our similarities as well as differences. We also need to strengthen the multi-layered frameworks of our partnership, taking into consideration the rapidly changing dynamics in our region.

I wish to conclude my speech by stating my vision for Korea and New Zealand as the most sustainable and reliable strategic partners in this era of the Asia Pacific. For that, we need to take each other more seriously and give a closer look at each other.  Thank you.

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Page last updated: Wednesday, 21 November 2012 15:13 NZDT