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Korea-Africa Summit to Explore Synergies

Interview with Ambassador Dong-han Yang of the Republic of Korea to South Africa
Ambassador Dong-han Yang (photo: TDS)

16 February 2024

Ambassador Dong-han Yang of the Republic of Korea (ROK) arrives in South Africa to take up his post at a most exciting and pivotal time on the continent as Korea gears up to host the first ever Korea-Africa Summit this year. South Africans will be going to the polls this year for the 7th general elections since its transformation to a constitutional democracy and its inaugural election in 1994, 30 years ago. These milestones coincide with Ambassador Yang’s own 30th anniversary of joining the Korean Foreign Ministry.

In this web exclusive interview with The Diplomatic Society (TDS), Ambassador Yang shares the vision of Korea, whose own history is about the triumph of a people who showed resolve and resilience after the devastation of war.

TDS: Briefly describe the narrative of the Republic of Korea considering the current transformation of the global geo-politic and socio-economic situation and what vision does Korea want to share.

Ambassador Dong-han Yang: At the outset I would like to note that the world is facing an unprecedented global polycrisis, blurring the lines between security and economy.

On a global scale, I’d like to note the easing of globalisation and disruptions in the global supply chains as well as climate and digital transition. Also, geopolitical tensions challenged the rules-based international order founded on universal values such as freedom and democracy. Furthermore, I would like to note the delayed recovery from the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and a global food and energy crisis.

Given these global transformations, Korea firmly believes that freedom and democracy is the basis for peace and prosperity. To achieve global peace and prosperity, international solidarity based on universal values is essential. The Korean government, with a vision to be a global pivotal state and G-7 plus country, aims to contribute to the international solidarity founded on universal values such as freedom and democracy. To this end, Korea will do its best to fulfill responsibilities and roles commensurate with its status in the international community. As a part of these efforts, Korea is scaling up its Official Development Assistance (ODA) by approximately 40% in 2024. Korea will help its developing and underdeveloped partners to strengthen their capacity in climate and digital transition, food and energy crisis and youth technology innovation.

I would like to stress that the global environment we find ourselves in is unprecedentedly challenging but I hope that South Africa and Korea as countries that share universal values of freedom and democracy, can cooperate to contribute to addressing the many issues in a mutually beneficial and sustainable way.

TDS: You arrive in South Africa as it prepares to celebrate 30 years of freedom and the nation will be holding it 7th General Elections. What is your mandate in this regard and what are your expectations?

Ambassador Dong-han Yang: Since the end of Apartheid, over the last three decades, South Africa has made remarkable progress based on the spirit of tolerance and reconciliation.

I am confident that South Africa will further build on its past efforts and reach new heights. In this regard I am very pleased to highlight that Korea and South Africa commemorated the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations in 2022. Since then, our two countries have worked closely together to expand our bilateral cooperative ties across various sectors.

To begin with, the first Joint Cooperation Commission (JCC) was held in Seoul, Korea in 2022. This year, the 2nd JCC meeting is expected to be held in South Africa. To make it a success, our two governments are closely working together.

In particular, as of 2022, Korea’s exports to South Africa amounted to approximately 1.1 billion USD, while South Africa’s exports to Korea amounted to approximately 3.8 billion USD. South Africa provides Korea with important minerals such as manganese, chrome, iron ore and coal. In addition, I would like to highlight that every year more than 1,300 young South African college graduates go to Korea to teach English. From the early 2000’s almost 13,000 South African teachers have been to Korea.

On the other hand, Korea’s leading company in power generation and equipment maintenance is actively collaborating with Eskom to address South Africa’s power issues.

I am pleased to say that all these showcase the mutually beneficial and sustainable cooperation between our two countries.

TDS: South Africa, as a member of the African Union, is among the most developed nations and in the top 5 largest economies in Africa. It is a member of the G20, which last year included the AU as member. The AfCFTA is a significant outcome of Africa’s Agenda 2063, a plan implemented for the integration of Africa. What is Korea’s Africa strategy, what are the main challenges and how do we mitigate them and open opportunities for collaboration and mutual cooperation and benefit?

Ambassador Dong-han Yang: We are well aware that the African continent showed remarkable resilience in the face of multiple global crises. It has a population of 1.4 billion with 420 million young people, is rich in critical minerals and it is preparing to take off through the implementation of the AfCFTA.

The Korean government is making strides in expanding cooperative ties between Korea and Africa. In this regard, Korea is seeking to lay the foundation for more mutually beneficial and sustainable cooperation with African countries.

Later this year Korea will host the Korea-Africa Summit meeting in Korea. The Summit will serve as an optimal opportunity to generate a synergy effect between Korea’s Global Pivotal Strategy and the AU’s Agenda 2063. The Summit will provide an opportunity to form a future oriented partnership.

Additionally, we can share our development experiences with our African partners and the dynamism of the African countries will help Korea to revitalise its growth. Taking this opportunity, Korea will endeavour to expand exchanges between the companies of Korea and Africa, thereby boosting trade and investment. Furthermore, Korea will formulate the development cooperation initiative which will bring about tremendous advances in the capacity of African countries in climate and digital transition, food, energy and youth technology innovation.

I would also like to underline that South Africa has been spearheading the efforts to promote economic growth on the African continent. South Africa is Korea’s largest trading partner on the continent. It is also one of the central hubs for logistics and is a gateway to expand cooperation with the rest of Africa. South Africa will furthermore, host the G20 Summit next year.

I am confident that our two countries will further strengthen the close ties through collaboration for the success of the major international events to be held in Korea and South Africa respectively.

TDS: Are there any other areas of cooperation that you would like to highlight?

Ambassador Dong-han Yang: More than anything else I would like to highlight that South Africa is one of the African countries that deployed a fighter squadron to Korea during the Korean War. A total of 826 soldiers were deployed to Korea with 26 killed in action and 8 missing in action. Korea will never forget the noble and invaluable sacrifices of the veterans and their families.
On 15 January 2024 Ambassador Yang laid a wreath at the Korean War Memorial Wall at the Union Buildings, one of his very first engagements upon arriving in the country to take up his post in Pretoria (photo supplied)

I believe that the exchange between the peoples of South Africa and Korea serves as a bridge in our bilateral relationship. The Korean community in South Africa is the largest one on the African continent. Also, as I already shared, annually more than 1,300 South African young people go to Korea. The Korean community and the experiences of the South African young people in Korea are invaluable resources for people-to-people exchanges between our two countries.

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The Korean Cultural Centre in Pretoria which was opened in November 2022 is the third in Africa. This year we are planning various interactive cultural events to expand the understanding between the people of our two countries. We are hoping that more South Africans will join the KCC programs and enjoy our cultures together.

Finally, during my tenure here in South Africa, I will do my best to share the attractiveness of Korean culture and raise awareness of the importance of bilateral ties in every segment of South African society, as well as the importance of South Africa in Korea.

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