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Korea envoy looks to the next chapter of Korea-Vietnam ties

South Korea`s first female ambassador to Vietnam Oh Young-ju speaks with The Korea Herald at the Korean Embassy in Hanoi on Nov. 22. (The Korea Herald)
South Korea`s first female ambassador to Vietnam Oh Young-ju speaks with The Korea Herald at the Korean Embassy in Hanoi on Nov. 22. (The Korea Herald)
HANOI, Vietnam -- When South Korea first forged diplomatic ties with Vietnam 30 years ago, not many expected the fledgling bond to become as strong as it is today.

Now the Southeast Asian country is one of Korea’s closest partners, or a “diplomatic hotspot” as Korea’s Ambassador to Vietnam Oh Young-ju likes to put it.

“When the Korean embassy was first established 30 years ago, there were only two government officials here – an ambassador and an attache. Now a total of 13 government ministries have representatives stationed in Vietnam, while some 30 public agencies, including the Korea Creative Content Agency, have since entered here,” she said, in a recent interview with The Korea Herald at the Korean Embassy in Hanoi.

Two months into the job, Oh sees her host nation’s role in the global economic landscape evolves as global supply chains shift and the need for two countries to advance their partnership to the “next stage.”

“Vietnam is getting a special role and clout as a middle power nation. For Korea, which is seeking to expand its political, economic and cultural influence in the Asia-Pacific region, there is no better partner than Vietnam,”the envoy stressed.

Korea is Vietnam’s top investor, having invested $80 billion in accumulated total as of September this year.

For Korea, Vietnam is the third largest export market after China and the US. Korea’s exports to Vietnam came to $56.7 billion last year.

The annual trade volume between the two countries jumped over a 150-fold in the past 30 years from $500 million in 1992 to $80.7 billion as of end of last year.

So far, some 9,000 Korean businesses, both big and small, have entered the Vietnamese market, data provided by the embassy showed. Korean conglomerates like Samsung, Hyundai, Daewoo and Lotte, have mega-projects going on in Vietnam, including Samsung Electronics’ research and development center in Hanoi slated to open later this month.

In the past, Vietnam was mainly viewed as another low-cost labor production base in Asia. But today, Korean businesses’ interests in the country have diversified, from technology and IT to green projects.

Oh cited Hyundai Motor’s second factory in Vietnam as an example.

The Korean automaker’s factory has swiftly adopted a high level of automation and may be given a new role of producing electric vehicles, the envoy explained.

“The Vietnamese government prefers such green investments.”

Apart from business and trade, Korea and Vietnam share genuine interests in each others’ culture, society and people, Oh stressed.

“The Korean International School in Hanoi is the largest authorized Korean international school in the world. There are Korean language departments in a total of 53 universities across Vietnam – this translates into a more active interaction between the countries.”

While Korea-Vietnam ties seem to only have a smooth road ahead, Oh expressed concerns of fake news circulating around YouTube and social media.

“YouTube is very popular in Vietnam and some fake news have been falsely informing its viewers on Korea or Korean firms. The embassy will make efforts to minimize misunderstanding and optimize on understanding between the countries by using our diplomatic skills.”

“Korea has forged a very successful diplomatic relationship with Vietnam for the past 30 years despite their differences in politics, economy and social system,” said Oh.

Since joining Seoul’s foreign ministry in 1988, Oh has served many important roles as diplomat, including the 2015-2107 stint as S. Korea’s ambassador and deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York.

She is Korea’s 14th and the first female ambassador to Vietnam.

By Jung Min-kyung (mkjung@heraldcorp.com)
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