The Republic of Korea - Vietnam relation is at best but peak is yet to come: Korean Ambassador Choi Youngsam

On the occasion of Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son's visit to the Republic of Korea (RoK) (May 30-June 1), the Korean Ambassador to Vietnam Choi Youngsam shared with the WVR about expectations for the visit and potentials of bilateral relations.
PM Pham Minh Chinh (R) and the Republic of Korea's Ambassador to Vietnam Choi Young Sam. (Source: VNA)

Could you please share with us your expectations of the visit to our relations, especially the first RoK-Vietnam Foreign Ministers' Dialogue?

The key objective of this visit is to make relations between the RoK and Vietnam, which are considered to be the best so far, “even better”.

The RoK-Vietnam's bilateral relations are at their best, better than ever. Yet I believe that now is very timely for the RoK and Vietnam to go beyond our current best relationship and cooperate even more closely with each other.

Korean Ambassador to Vietnam Choi Yoongsam.

Now is the optimum juncture for us to work shoulder to shoulder to go through various challenges around the rapidly changing international community and overcome diverse barriers across the competitive global markets.

After declaring a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership in 2022, on the occasion of the state visit by President Yoon Seok Yeol last year, both sides fully discussed an all-round comprehensive cooperation between the two countries, ranging from diplomacy and security to the economic, trade, investment, and even science and technology, information and communication, and climate change areas.

As a result, we could agree on the Action Plan to implement a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between the RoK and Vietnam.

On the occasion of this visit to Korea, Minister Bui Thanh Son will embark on the first RoK-Vietnam Foreign Ministers' Dialogue with the RoK's Foreign Minister Cho Tae Yeol, and both Ministers carefully check the progress made in various agreements reached between the two leaders, and discuss ways to further enhance the bonds of cooperation in the future also.

The first RoK-Vietnam Foreign Ministers' Dialogue was followed by an official luncheon and a walk through Gyeongbokgung Palace, a cherished Chosun Dynasty palace of Korea, where the two Foreign Ministers engaged in a comprehensive exchange of views. We expect that such high-ranking personnel exchanges, including summit-level ones, will become even more active in generating opportunities for the better relationship between us for the future.

During a recent visit to the RoK, Deputy Foreign Minister Le Thi Thu Hang emphasized that the Vietnam-RoK relations are at the best stage in history. How does this fact motivate you to promote your goals during your term in Vietnam?

While I totally agree with Deputy Minister Hang’s comments, I do believe that if the RoK and Vietnam work together, we can make an “even better” time.

As I said, the RoK and Vietnam are indeed working together closely in a whole spectrum of fields, to the extent that there is barely any area in which we are not cooperating.

And yet, as the international environment around our two countries is constantly changing and evolving, I believe that we should not be just satisfied with the current achievement. Rather, we should work together even more closely than before towards the sustainable development of both countries.

When looking back to the past from the perspective of the present, the RoK-Vietnam relations might be at their best. However, from the standpoint of the future towards the present, I would rather say that the peak of the relationship between our two countries is yet to come.

As the two countries are collaborating wholeheartedly towards a future pinnacle yet to come, it might be one of my important duties, as the Ambassador to Vietnam, to further promote mutual cooperation between two countries in strategic areas such as supply chain security, technological cooperation, and semiconductors amid great powers' competition and the rapidly changing international community.

Interactive cooperation in new areas is of great importance for both countries too. The two countries are seeking ways to work closely together for the rising digital economy due the rapid digital transformation. And indeed Korea and Vietnam are advancing together hand in hand to overcome common challenges such as tackling climate change and revitalizing the green economy.

Moreover, as the RoK strengthens its contribution to the international community as a Global Pivotal State and deepens its ties of cooperation with ASEAN and Southeast Asia through its Indo-Pacific Strategy and the RoK-ASEAN Solidarity Initiative, the RoK is working sincerely with Vietnam, its true friend and key partner.

Korea also wishes to play an important role, as a trusted friend and key partner, in supporting Vietnam to achieve the goal of emerging as a middle-income country by 2030 and developing into a high-income country by the 100th anniversary of its independence in 2045.

Representatives from Binh Duong and Korean partners at the “Meet Korea 2024” programme on May 17, 2024. (Source: WVR)

Currently, the RoK maintains the standing of number one direct investor in Vietnam (accumulated 86 billion USD), what are the investment potentials in Vietnam in the coming time and a specific number you expect?

The two countries are expanding the scope of the combined efforts from the traditional manufacturing to a variety of fields that will serve as new growth engines.

The RoK-Vietnam relationship is complementary and mutually beneficial, if there is an area in which Vietnam has a strategic need for investment, the RoK would repecct its need as a promising area for investment.

In particular, the two countries have a common interest in the advancement of manufacturing, including high-tech industries, the digital transformation, including ICT, and green growth and eco-friendly cooperation to cope with climate change. Accordingly, there have recorded big increase of Korean companies' investments in Vietnam both in terms of quantity and quality, including in eco-friendly cutting-edge carbon fiber, plastics, and secondary batteries and so on.

Hopefully, the Vietnamese government shall generate various investment incentives and favorable conditions so that additional cooperation between the two countries in these new growth areas will arise and new and additional investments by Korean companies can follow quickly and smoothly.

You have said that although it cannot be quantified, the RoK is the country that loves Vietnam the most in the world. What are the foundations for that good feelings?

Whenever I am asked to illustrate the RoK-Vietnam relationship, the first thing I refer to is the 1st, the 2nd, and the 3rd: Korea is Vietnam's first largest cumulative investor and second largest ODA donor, and the two countries are each other's third largest trading partner.

However, there is something ‘special’ about the RoK-Vietnam relations that cannot be explained or articulated by these statistical numbers alone. I believe this ‘something special’ is the understanding and love between the people of the two countries.

I believe that our two nations are understanding and loving each other based on active people-to-people exchanges and two nations' historical and cultural similarities.

First of all, our peoples are actively visiting each other. As for the year of 2023, 3.6 million Koreans and 500,000 Vietnamese visited each other's country. And indeed, the number of mutual visits is quickly being restored to the level of 4.9 million in 2019 prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In particular, Vietnam has become the most visited travel destination by Koreans, and many Koreans are visiting not only well-known cities such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh, but also are seeking hidden gems in Vietnam such as Da Lat and Phu Quoc is increasing.

In addition, about 180,000 Korean citizens living in Vietnam, around 270,000 Vietnamese living in the RoK and over 90,000 Korean-Vietnamese families living in the respective countries are serving as solid connecting links between the two countries. With their special bonds with each other as a firm basis, they are fostering a greater mutual understanding of the respective societies and helping to nurture a deeper love of each other's cultures.

In addition, the RoK and Vietnam have a sense of empathy in common: they share not only painful times in their histories such as division and colonial rule, but also cultural similarities such as Confucian culture and an enthusiasm for education in society as a whole.

In particular, the sight of people from the two countries enjoying and engaging in sports exchanges such as soccer and Taekwondo, as well as cultural assets such as K-pop as well as Korean and Vietnamese food, are a source of inspiration. They nurture yet greater hopes for a bright future for the bonds of friendship between the two countries.

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