The Kingdom of Sweden and the Republic of Korea have maintained bilateral diplomatic relations since 1959 and they have blossomed into mutually beneficial developments in various fields over the span of more than five decades. These positive developments are reflected in steadily growing bilateral trade, increasing cooperation in science and technology, maturing cultural ties as well as presenting a common front on many issues such as pursuing green growth and promoting human rights in less fortunate parts of the world.
Even though the bilateral diplomatic relations did not get launched until 1959, the first official contact between the two countries started far earlier and may be traced back to the days when Gustaf VI Adolf participated in the major excavation of one of ancient royal tombs in Korea back in 1926 out of his penchant for archeology, when he was crown prince.
The bilateral ties took a definitely positive turn when a number of Swedes volunteered to come to the Republic of Korea as members of medical support units during the three-year long Korean War and supported our people’s quest for peace and freedom. Koreans do remember this humanitarian act from a very remote country in Scandinavia and are still grateful for that.
The year 2009 marked the 50th anniversary of diplomatic ties and the incumbent Korean President Lee Myung-bak visited the Kingdom to commemorate the diplomatic milestone between the two countries. In return, King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia paid their first state visit to Korea during May 29th and June 1st this year and their trip is widely seen as having upgraded the bilateral relations even further.
During his four day stay in Korea, King Carl XVI Gustaf and his Korean counterpart, President Lee had in-depth discussion about issues of mutual interest, such as regional development around the Korean peninsula, the implications of the global economic crisis and ways to promote further bilateral cooperation in trade and investment, collaboration in science, research and technology as well as strengthening exchanges in culture and education.
During his visit, the Swedish King commended Korea for playing its role in the stability and prosperity of the global community through hosting the G-20 Summit and the Nuclear Security Summit, alongside Korea’s rapid development in both political and economic realms over the last decades and also wished success to the EXPO taking place in the southwestern port city of Yeosu in Korea.
I would like to help readers of this newspaper to understand King Gustaf’s comments by giving a very brief background on Korea’s rapid transformation over the last 60 years.
After the Korean War came to a halt in 1953, the country has managed to catapult itself from a very poor agrarian society into the league of advanced economies and has achieved vibrant democracy as well. Korea’s rapid development and economic ascendency has made it a model state and inspiration for a number of developing economies.
In light of such accomplishments within a relatively short space of time, I believe that Korea’s current standing in the global community rightfully warrants the country to play a bigger role in the international arena and to make a further contribution to common good, along with the Kingdom.
I find a lot of common ground to be exploited jointly by the governments of Sweden and Korea in this regard. After all, both Sweden and Korea experienced financial crises in 1990s and successfully launched structural economic reforms in response to them. Their reforms, in turn, helped both countries to tide over with the current global financial crisis.
Some of common policy directions include, but are not limited to, developing environment-friendly and sustainable economic growth strategies, combating global warming and developing renewable energy as well as serving as peace promoters in many conflict-torn areas of the world. The last role just mentioned is what Sweden has dedicated itself to since the end of the Second World War and Korea is willing to take more of that role in the future by participating UN peace keeping operations.
In addition, I would like to say that both countries have something to learn from each other. Korea looks to the Swedish experience to build a more-efficient welfare system and Sweden is interested in broadening cooperation with Korea in the field of education and science.
Apart from further expanding economic, scientific and cultural ties between the two countries, I believe that the Swedish King’s first state visit to Korea would lay the groundwork for both countries to focus more of their cooperation and resources to invest in the common areas of interest to the benefit of the people in Sweden and Korea.
Mr Seock-jeong EOM
Ambassador of the Republic of Korea in Sweden