Dr Song Jong-hwan
Diplomatic ties between Pakistan and South Korea were established in 1983. In the past 30 years, bilateral relations between these countries didn’t get a lot of attention and senior public figures in Korea rarely visited Pakistan.
This year, for the first time, two of the senior most public officials in Korea visited Pakistan. The Speaker of the National Assembly of Korea, Kang Chang-hee, led a delegation of both ruling and opposition parties from January 29th to 30th, 2014, on a visit to Pakistan. Furthermore, from April 13 to 16, 2014, the Prime Minister of Korea, Chung Hongwon, also visited Pakistan.
The government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, inaugurated in June 2013, is exerting multidirectional efforts on economic revival and aiming to rehabilitate the economy of the country. The international community has responded to these efforts positively. In this respect, the visit of the Korean Prime Minister to Pakistan was timely.
These visits of high-ranking officials from Korea show the close relation between Pakistan and the Republic of Korea. They also show that the relationship will further improve in the future. Accordingly, Korean officials, diplomats and businessmen would like to increase their interaction with Pakistan to keep up with the positive trajectory of bilateral relations. However, the security situation is an impediment, at least in the current scenario. In the long run, I am sure the situation will improve as the government is taking serious steps to fight terrorism.
Potential and economic situation of Pakistan need to be considered in conjunction with the security situation. Pakistan is a country with an estimated population of 190 million, which is the 6th largest in the world, which makes it a huge consumer market. Its territory is 3.5 times larger than the Korean peninsula, and it is located strategically between Central Asia, Middle East and West of China. It also has various natural mineral resources and a labour force of 100 million.
As the new government’s business friendly policies are implemented, the economic atmosphere is improving. In the fiscal year of 2013-2014, Pakistan‘s economic growth rate was 4.14 per cent and exchange rate stabilised thanks to the inflow of foreign investments and domestic remittance from overseas Pakistanis. Karachi stock market also shows stable growth trend of 37.6 per cent in fiscal year 2013-14.
Given that Korea became an aid donor from an aid recipient country in such a short period of time, Pakistan’s government and people rate Korea highly and are active in promoting Korea-Pakistan relations. The Korean government is also reciprocating and Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) has supported several grant projects, which benefit Pakistanis in terms of healthcare, education, sanitation and general infrastructure. The latest of these has been building water supply facilities for 25 villages in Mandi Bahauddin, Punjab, which benefits about 55,000 people which were handed over to community-based organisations on June 19, 2014 to the great relief and pleasure of the wonderful village people.
After handing over the water supply facilities, I held meetings with the chambers of commerce and industry in Faisalabad, Lahore and Sialkot. The director of Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) and the economic counsellor of the Korean embassy also actively participated in these meetings. Here, I could see Pakistan’s real economic potential and the Pakistan entrepreneur’s aspiration to interact economically with Korea.
In Sialkot, there was an incident which made me realise that truly there are Korean people all over the world. While visiting the Pakistani company, Forward Sports, in Sialkot, which produces and supplies the official soccer balls for the Brazil World Cup (The Brazuca), I was informed that a young Korean entrepreneur was in a joint venture company, Forward Gear, with them in the production of backpacks.
I was also happy to meet the Chief Minister of Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif, during my recent visit to Lahore and to share with him the 71 volumes of books from the Korean Development Institute and a CD on the Korean Economic Miracle. As an academic, it was heartening to hear him say he would study Korean economic development thoroughly.
Everyone says it is dangerous to travel around Pakistan. However, my recent visits to four cities covered almost 2,000 km over 3 days and 2 nights. Since June 30th marked my first anniversary as the Korean ambassador to Pakistan, personally this regional business trip became a chance for me to look back on the previous year and make new resolutions. Having completed my trip, I felt a sense of pride in Pakistan. I could see and feel the potential of Pakistan and was convinced once more that Pakistan is the country that Korea needs to reach out to.
–The writer is the Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to Pakistan.
Dr Song Jong-hwan