Choe, Yong-Jin is the Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to Nepal. He has been working to bring greater dynamism in the relationship between the two countries. He spoke with Terence Lee of THT Perspectives on the relationship and potential to enhance trade and tourism.
How have the bilateral relations between Nepal and Korea evolved over the years?
We have had diplomatic relations since 1974 and last year we marked 40 years of this relationship. We have always enjoyed very amicable and friendly relations and now this relationship is getting stronger and warmer. If you look at the data and numbers, more than 30,000 Korean tourists visit Nepal every year and around 26,000 Nepalis live in Korea. The accumulative numbers is growing for the number of Koreans visiting Nepal. Nepal is seen as a place of pilgrimage for Korean Buddhists who make up for 50 per cent of the population. I think it is a very good relationship we share and there is still space for this
to grow more.
Post earthquake what are the challenges and new dimensions to this relationship?
Personally, I experienced both the earthquakes in Nepal. Right after the first major earthquake I requested our government to send some search and rescue teams and medical teams. The Korean government right away sent two search and rescue teams along with one medical team. We donated almost USD 5,00,000 in cash through international organisations. In Korea a popular phrase was ‘Pray for Nepal’. Every donor, including common people and students donated to this cause and this was received by the Nepali Embassy in Seoul.
Recently we donated 24 excavators and heavy equipment to the government of Nepal which will help in the removal of debris and the reconstruction of Nepal. I asked the Korean government also for small excavators and eight smaller ones will also soon be delivered.We will also announce a grant of USD 10 million for the reconstruction of Nepal. Most of this (around USD eight million) will go to Nuwakot district to reconstruct the district hospital and health posts. We will not only build the hospital and health posts but we will also send some experts to train the local people as well as digitalise the system. The hospital system will be enhanced.
What is being done to enhance bilateral trade between the two nations?
I discussed a lot with Nepali businessmen and Nepal Chamber of Commerce (NCC) as well as Nepal Korea chamber of Commerce on how to enhance and promote more trade between the two countries. Last year I invited a Korean trade delegation for the first time to Nepal. This year we will bring another delegation. Then I heard that NCC is planning to send a delegation to Korea soon. So these exchanges can promote more trade which is currently very low as compared to the potential these two countries have.
I think we will explore proper items for export to Korea and to find the best way to expand and promote trade. This year we also plan to have a Korean products expo in Kathmandu in October. We will look at every possible way to increase the trade volume.
Korea is a very popular destination for Nepali manpower. Any comments on tapping further into this potential?
I know that many Nepalis want to work in Korea. That is also because Korea is the only country that guarantees minimum wage not only for Korean workers but those from abroad as well. They are also very safe in Korea and there are no problems. The fact is that Korean businessmen want more Nepali workers but the problem is the Employment Promise System is linked to 15 different labour exporting countries. However, Nepal’s quota is increased every year as compared to other countries. The trend is
What can Nepal do to attract Korean investment in Nepal?
It is natural for Nepal to want Korean investment in Nepal. However, after the new constitution is born and the political situation is stable, I think there will be more interest in the economic issues and foreign
investors will be more interested. I think after the constitution there will be more Korean companies interested in investing in Nepal.
How can we increase the number of Korean tourists visiting Nepal?
I don’t think the number is important. Korean tourists who come to Nepal are high end tourists who are educated and wealthy. They come to Nepal for pilgrimage and meditation not for fun. For Korean tourists, a trip to Nepal is spiritual healing. They not only visit Lumbini but also trek to the Annapurna region or Everest region. The number is increasing steadily but more important is the quality. The quality we bring in to Nepal will prove to be good for the country.
A version of this article appears in print on January 01, 1970 of The Himalayan Times.