Kim Jin-soo, ambassador of the Republic of Korea to Saudi Arabia, strongly believe that his country and the Kingdom are just about to enter into the threshold to the beginning of new chapter in bilateral relations.
“South Korea and the Kingdom are furthermore focusing on enriching cultural and people-to-people exchanges, especially among young generation, realizing that these exchanges are the most effective, fastest and steadiest means to promote mutual understanding, friendship and solidarity,” he told Arab News in a recent interview.

The following are excerpts from the interview:

How do you evaluate relations between South Korea and Saudi Arabia in Political, Economic and Cultural fields? Please give detailed answer with special reference to the new developments on bilateral level.
Since the establishment of official diplomatic relations in 1962, the friendship and cooperation between South Korea and the Kingdom have been strengthened year after year.
Our two countries share the core values and cooperate closely on international stage.
Since their last summit meeting in February 2012, the two countries have made more than 20 mutual visits of minister-level and high-ranking officials so far. It is expected that no less than 10 ministers will visit each other country within the remaining three months of this year
In terms of economic field, the two countries have steadily expanded the scope of cooperation for mutual benefits in the ICT, health and medical care, culture and education fields beyond from the traditionally strong ties in the area of construction and commercial trade.
Particularly, our two friendly countries would have the first Business Opportunity Forum from October 29 to October 31 in Seoul.
Several ministers of the Kingdom are expected to attend the inaugural business conference, accompanied by a big business delegation consisting of top representatives of key industries of the Kingdom.
I strongly believe that we are just about to enter into the threshold to the beginning of new chapter in our bilateral relations.
South Korea and the Kingdom are furthermore focusing on enriching cultural and people-to-people exchanges, especially among young generation, realizing that these exchanges are the most effective, fastest and steadiest means to promote mutual understanding, friendship and solidarity.
Korea was the guest of honor at Janadriyah Festival 2012 and hosted a special traditional crafts exhibition in the National Museum in Riyadh.
On the other hand, Saudi Arabia participated at Seoul International Book Fair in 2013 as a partner country.
There are also ongoing discussions to exchange experts of crafts industry of both countries to enhance their cooperation in cultural area.

What has been the total volume of two-way trade between the two countries in 2012, 2013 and during the first half of 2014? What is the total volume of Saudi investment in South Korea and Korean investment in Saudi Arabia?
South Korea and the Kingdom currently the fourth largest trading partners to each other with trade volume of $46.5 billion in the year 2013. The two countries have expanded the scope of cooperation to the defense, health, culture and education fields.
In addition, the amount of Kingdom accumulated investment in South Korea has reached more than $700 million, and Korean companies have invested more than $620 million in the Kingdom up to date. This reflects the dynamic business activities of mutual interests between the two countries.

Which are the most important sectors of Korean economy or business opportunities that could attract interests of Saudi businessmen? What kind of concessions are being offered to Saudi and Gulf investors?
It would be greatly instrumental to strengthen the industrial fundamentals of the Kingdom, if Saudi investors would engage more actively in the key industry fields such as material industry and components, automotive, electronics, and renewable energy in South Korea. Particularly, the petrochemical industry and its relevant field would be very promising for the investors of the Kingdom.
The South Korean government provides foreign direct investors a very comprehensive incentive scheme with all kinds of conceivable support such as lease of manufacturing land, financing, technology and consulting. KOTRA, Korea Trade and Investment Promotion Agency, is also represented in Riyadh to give tailor-made support and to facilitate the mutual investments.

I understand that some major Saudi investments including a $1 billion investment by Advance Petrochemical Company has gone to South Korea? Please share details.
Advanced Petrochemical Company has recently invested $150 million in South Korea to build a joint factory, which is still under construction in Ulsan, a port city in Korea. The newly built manufacturing facilities will produce propylene with processed LPG gas. Once built in 2016, the state-of-the-art factory will produce 600,000 ton annually, making it the world’s biggest one in the field.
It is very auspicious that the amount of investment of Saudi Arabia in South Korea has increased almost three times in the first nine months of this year compared to the previous year.

What is South Korea’s position on Syria, ISIS, Iran and Israel-Palestine crises as well as other key regional issues confronting the Middle East region? What kind of role Korea can play in the region?
Amid increasing security concerns in Middle East, Saudi Arabia plays a key role increasingly as a stability anchor in the otherwise precarious region, which is recognized by international community, rightly so. South Korea fully supports the diplomatic efforts by concerned parties to solve the regional issues through dialogue peacefully and to restore stability and trust to this strategically important region.
South Korea is committed to playing a role to seek a sustainable solution, if need be, prepared to assume more responsibility.
Among others, South Korean government has promised and kept its words to give humanitarian support including financial contributions to Syrian and Iraqi refugees who are mostly suffering from the volatile security situation.
Furthermore, we do hope that the international actors could find the constructive solution to address the Iranian nuclear issue to the satisfaction of all parties involved, with the ongoing international negotiations arriving at a settlement hopefully soon.
As to the Palestinian issue, the Korean government welcomed the truce agreement achieved on August 26, through Egyptian mediation, and we really hope that the agreement must be respected by all parties and the conflicts shadowed by mistrust would be settled on the basis of mutual trust-building efforts.

Has South Korea granted Muslims the status of a recognized religious community? Do Muslims enjoy the rights to study Islam and Qur’an, build mosques and make their own cemetery in Korea now? What is the total number of Muslims in Korea?
More than 100,000 Muslims enjoy their religious practices in Korea and there are no less than nine Mosques of which the most prominent Central Mosque in Seoul was built in 1976, supported partially by Saudi Arabia.
The relationship of Korea with Islamic culture is indeed a history of long-lasting friendship. Historically, the first grand mosque had been built as early as the 11th century in Korea.
At that time, the commercial trade between Arabian countries and South Korea expanded over time, which brought cultural exchanges as well.
Furthermore, a considerable number of South Korean universities provide the Islamic and Arabic studies and some colleges have their own Islamic centers for in-depth academic studies.

Which are the major commercial projects won by South Korean companies in Saudi Arabia 2014? Please share details of the projects including their value, nature of jobs and technical components involved in them?
South Korean companies have played a crucial role to bridge our two countries over the last half century. Among others, Hanwha E&C is working on its PAP (phosphoric acid plant) project of Maaden and Hyundai E&C are taking part in several major electric substations and electric grids this year.
Particularly, the PAP project, which just got off the ground, would contribute greatly to the balanced growth of regional economy and job creation of the Kingdom in the long run, because the project is concentrated in the underdeveloped area.
The other projects in the electricity field would boost employment directly and indirectly, and these projects would be very conducive to overcoming the electricity shortage in the region.

What is the status of cooperation between South Korea and Saudi Arabia in nuclear field? Is there any plan to host joint programs, workshops or event in this field?
On the basis of the agreement between the two countries in the peaceful use of nuclear energy in the year 2011, there are a variety of ongoing cooperation projects between South Korea and Saudi Arabia such as commercial use of nuclear energy, common development of research reactor or small and medium-sized reactor, training of technical experts.
After the ministerial meeting in 2013, experts from both countries have visited several times both ways to follow-up the ongoing project. Twenty-six Saudi students are now taking courses provided by the graduate university for advanced studies of KEPCO (Korea Electric Power Corporation).
The two countries are working on organizing delegation visits or technical forums to further expand collaboration to build infrastructure for nuclear energy

Is there any plan for a top official or any Korean delegation to visit Saudi Arabia in near future? Any Saudi official or delegation about to visit Seoul in near future?
We expect more than three minister-led delegations from South Korea to visit the Kingdom within the remaining few months of this year.
At the same time, it is expected that six ministers or minister-level high-ranking officials of the Kingdom will visit Korea to participate in bilateral meeting or in a international conference.
Economy and Planning Minister, Industry and Commerce Minister, K. A. CARE president and SAGIA governor will attend the inaugural Saudi-Korean Business Opportunity Forum, which is scheduled to take place soon in Seoul, accompanied by almost 200 top representatives from key industry fields of the Kingdom.
In addition, the minister of Justice and Minister of Labor are supposed to take the opportunity to travel to South Korea in time.
These high-profile exchanges of top governmental officials from various portfolios would mirror the ongoing dynamic development of bilateral relations.
Furthermore, the speaker of Korean National Assembly has invited the president of Shoura Council to visit our country in the latter part of this year.

What is the total number of Saudi nationals traveling to South Korea? Please provide figures, if you have, for 2012, 2013 and first six months of 2014.
According to statistics from Korean Tourism Organization, the number of visitors from the Kingdom reached the record number of more than 10,000 for the first time last year, which means about 28 percent increase compared to the previous year. Particularly since direct flight service by Korean Air has been resumed in 2012, the person-to-person exchange is increasing every year.
The tendency of increasing mutual visitors reflects the ever closer relations between the two countries.

Finally, your comments on Saudi participation in Asiad Games?
In the Asian Games, which ended on October 4 in Incheon, the second biggest port city of Korea, we were deeply impressed by the Saudi athletes’ excellent performance as well as their sportsmanship.
The real key message of international sports like Asiad would be the respect for fair play and honor for very spirit of sportsmanship.
The number of medals or rankings of participants doesn’t play anymore a visible role. In this sense, the Saudi delegation gave us, the host of the Games as well as the foreign visitors, very positive impression with their fair play spirit and hospitality.

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