Ambassador Chin Ki-hoon of Korea recently spoke to nCa about the state and prospects of bilateral relations between Korea and Turkmenistan.
Here is the transcript of his interview:
nCa: Korea and Turkmenistan have always been close partners. What are the current processes and developments in bilateral relations?
Ambassador Chin: Korea and Turkmenistan have developed close relations in various spheres since the forge of diplomatic ties in 1992.
In particular, the state visit of President Moon Jae-in to Turkmenistan this April was a historical milestone to increase our bilateral relations to a new level. The two leaders discussed their visions for peace and prosperity of Eurasia. President Berdimuhamedov welcomed Korea’s New Northern Policy, and President Moon appreciated Turkmenistan’s strategy of regional transport hub.
During the visit, the two Presidents visited Kiyanly gas chemical plant together. The plant, which is the symbol of Korea-Turkmen economic cooperation, is one of the first and biggest gas chemical complexes of such kind in Central Asia. The two leaders also agreed to expand cooperation in economy, energy, health, digital technology as well as environment protection. They also agreed to promote cultural and educational exchanges. During the visit, it was also decided to cooperate closely on regional issues and boost cooperation under the framework of Korea-Central Asia Cooperation Forum.
As Korean ambassador to Turkmenistan, I am very happy to witness cooperation between our two countries are expanding day by day, as a result of smooth implementation of agreements by the two Presidents. On September 2, the Training Center of Korean Language Study named after King Sejong opened in Ashgabat. The Turkmen government decided to launch Korean language program at the secondary school in Ashgabat from September. Big Korean delegation participated in Saglyk 2019 exhibition and two countries’ ministry of health embarked on regular dialogue on cooperation in health and medical field. Korea Plant Industry Association is working with the Turkmen side for organizing education program for gas chemical plant engineers. And we are excited to see the football match between national teams of two friendly countries in the framework of upcoming Qatar World Cup. The match will be held at 7pm on September 10 at Kopetdag stadium in Ashgabat.
nCa: What is the current volume of bilateral trade turnover and what is the expected increase in this volume in the next three years?
Ambassador Chin: The volume of trade turnover between Korea and Turkmenistan has been in a upward trend until 2016, when the trade turnover reached at 362 million USD. Recently, the figure has decreased due to the finish of big infrastructure projects such as Kiyanly Gas-chemical plant.
Considering the mutually economic structure of the two countries, there are much rooms to increase bilateral trade turnover. The two Presidents agreed on the need to diversify bilateral trade and agreed to upgrade cooperation in this area in the Joint Declaration adopted during the State Visit this year. Therefore, I am optimistic that bilateral economic and trade relations between our friendly countries will continue to develop. The two leaders also noted importance to provide favorable conditions for business activities by reinforcing legal and institutional base.
nCa: In the private sector, what steps are being taken to increase the direct interaction between the business communities of Korea and Turkmenistan?
Ambassador Chin: The private sectors of the two countries have cooperated closely under the framework of the bilateral business forum. This year Korea-Turkmenistan business forum was held in February in Seoul in parallel with the 7th meeting of the Intergovernmental Korean-Turkmen Joint Committee for Economic, Trade, Scientific and Technological Cooperation.
Many Korean businessmen visit Turkmenistan to look for partnership with local businesses and the Embassy tries its best to support such mutually beneficial cooperation. Recently, the Korean delegation to the Saglyk exhibition including private hospitals and pharmaceutical trading company visited Turkmenistan and they had contacts with Turkmen businessmen.
In addition, as agreed during the State Visit, the Korea-Turkmen Business Council will be held in Seoul this year to provide an arena for discussion for private companies.
nCa: Are there any areas or products where joint manufacturing and marketing can be beneficial for both the countries?
Ambassador Chin: I think first and foremost area will be gas-chemical industry. Korean companies are actively cooperating with Turkmen partners in creating massive high-tech infrastructure for developing gas-chemical industry in Turkmenistan.
During the State Visit this year, the Presidents of our two countries visited Kiyanly gas chemical plant together. The Memorandum of Understanding was also signed between LG International Corp. and the Turkmen National Oil and Gas Gas Company (NaPeCo) Closed Joint-Stock Company to establish joint venture for marketing products of Kiyanly Plant.
Considering the two countries’ economic structures, there is a huge potential of joint manufacturing or marketing. During the summit meeting, two MOUs were signed on cooperation in manufacturing of synthetictextile in Turkmenistan. I hope that this kind of cooperation will be expanded further in the near future.
nCa: The Korean language courses have just started in Turkmenistan. Are there any teachers from Korea to conduct these courses in Ashgabat? And how many students have enrolled for the first batch?
Ambassador Chin: As you know, the Training Center of Korean Language Study named after King Sejong opened classes on September 2nd. This is the first King Sejong Institute in Turkmenistan and it is one of the outcomes of the State Visit this year. I think that establishment of the King Sejong Institute in Turkmenistan is a very meaningful step for the deepening mutual understanding between our two friendly peoples.
And we are thrilled by very high interest from Turkmen people in this program. There are 3 beginner level classes and 1 intermediate level class. We initially planned 1 beginner class, but expanded to three, as a large number of people applied for the class.
Currently, there is one Turkmen teacher from the Turkmen National Institute of World Languages named after D. Azadi. Of course, we will try to have more teachers whether Turkmen or Korean for the language center in the future, as demand for Korean language education is growing in Turkmenistan.
On this occasion, I wish to express my gratitude to President Berdimuhamedov and the Turkmen government for strong support for this program.
nCa: Are there any suggestions to make the mutual culture weeks more productive at grassroots level?
Ambassador Chin: Our Embassy is holding the Korea Week annually from 2016. Every time we hold this event, we could see a rapidly growing interest among Turkmen people, especially young people in Korean culture.
We try to encourage participants of ordinary Turkmen citizens in this cultural program. A vivid example is creating participation-based program such as Korean costume (Hanbok) experience program, which was held for the first time this year. Many young Turkmen people attended the event and enjoyed their time taking selfies and photos wearing Korean traditional costume. I think we may increase this kind of participation based programs.
In addition, many Turkmen citizens volunteered to assist the Korea Week this year. For example, students of Korean specialty at the Turkmen National Institute of World Languages named after D. Azadi served as models during the Hanbok fashion show on September 4th and as assistants at the other programs.
There are also good events such as quiz on Korea or K-pop contest worldwide with participation of grassroots level. In other countries, these programs receive positive responses and I think the Embassy can try to hold this kind of event in the future.
In addition, we encourage mutual exchange of culture with Turkmenistan, brotherly nation with common heritage shown in many cultural areas such as dancing or fashion, by organizing similar event in Seoul. This March Nowruz in Seoul event was held to introduce culture of Central Asian states including Turkmenistan to Korean citizens. The dance, food, fashion of Central Asian countries including Turkmenistan were presented in the framework of this event. /// nCa, 9 September 2019