SUDANOW (KHARTOUM) – Almost 40 years have passed since Sudan and the Republic of Korea established their diplomatic relations in 1977. Sudanow conducted the following interview with the Korean ambassador in Sudan Park Won-sup to shed light on the dimensions of this relationship:
Q: Thanks your Excellency for this opportunity; let us start with your assessment of this relation?
A: Naturally there have been ups and downs in that relationship. But generally I can say that our bilateral relationship has been all the time friendly and cooperative.
Our official relationship actually almost coincided with the investment of Korea's Daewoo Group in Sudan in 1970s, resulting in the establishment of diplomatic relationship and the opening of Korea's resident Embassy in Khartoum(13 years later, Sudan opened its Embassy in Seoul in 1990).
Daewoo Group operated a tyre factory in Port Sudan and was engaged in various business activities in Sudan such as manufacturing of yarn, textile, tannery and medicine, operation of hotel (Palace Hotel) and ( Blue Nile Bank) trading and forwarding ……etc.
But in the aftermath of the several financial crises in Korea in 1997, Daewoo Group was dismantled and Daewoo investments in Sudan started to withdraw one by one gradually. Nowadays Daewoo investment remains in the form of a joint venture company called GMC (General Medicine Company) which is producing medicines.
As you well know, economic cooperation is the key in any successful bilateral relationship by exerting ripple effects on other areas such as exchanges of visits and cultural activities. As results of Daewoo's situation, American sanctions against Sudan, secession of South Sudan … etc, I can say that over the recent years our bilateral relationship has been somewhat stagnated.
But Nowadays I can see some positive signs for our bilateral relationship. For example, the popularity of Korean products such as cars, mobile phones and electronic goods is high and growing. Also Korea's Hyundai automobile company will be likely to reopen its assembly factory in Sudan.
I believe that our bilateral relationship is at turning point to bounce back and will continue to move to positive directions in every area.
Q: What about cooperation projects in the IT field?
A: Yea, we need to make efforts to deepen and diversify areas for cooperation especially Information Technology (IT) field. Korea is well advanced in IT field and desires to increase cooperation in this field with Sudan.
In this regard, last year both governments concluded two MOUs for cooperation in IT field. One agreement was between Korea's National IT Industry Promotion Agency (NIPA) and Sudan's National Information Center (NIC) and the other between NIPA and Sudan's National Telecommunication Corporation (NTC).
NIPA decided to provide a master plan for e-government system in Sudan as a part of its MOU with NIC and in August 2015, the ceremony to kick-off this master plan was held at Corinthia Hotel with the Vic- president and many ministers of Sudanese government attending. NIPA also decided to implement another project next year as a part of its MOU with NTC.
On the private sector, it is commendable that Samsung Electronics is contributing to IT development in Sudan by establishing smart villages. Also Sudan's Future University is seeking cooperation with Korea in IT field by concluding MOU with Korea's Universities.
Q: Korea achieved remarkable economic development over a relatively short period of time …. Was this reflected in the economic relations between the two countries?
A: Korea’s remarkable economic development has been achieved due to a combination of the solid fundamentals such as institutionalization and human resources and other factors such as leadership, spirit of self-help, broad access to education, pragmatic and flexible policy approach.
Korea's growth is not a universal model. However, it shows crucial implication for developing countries: The importance of institutions, human capital and coordination between government and the market.
Sudan has abundant natural resources and well- educated people which should be fully utilized to achieve economic development. Korea is eager to share with Sudan its experience and know-how acquired in the process of economic development. Meanwhile, it is needless to say that economic cooperation and trade are the backbone of any bilateral relationship. In every aspect, the current state of economic cooperation between Korea and Sudan is never satisfactory. We have to make joint efforts to fully utilize our potential for economic cooperation.
Q: Are there any economic and commercial agreements between the two countries?
A: Korea and Sudan concluded the Commercial, Economic and Technical Agreement in 1976 and this agreement went into effect in 1978. There is no doubt that this agreement played important role in promoting commercial trade and technical cooperation between our two countries.
But what is more important for our bilateral relationship is to encourage Korean investment in Sudan. For this purpose, it is crucial to ensure that agreement on Avoidance of Double Taxation and Agreement on Protection and Promotion of Investment will go into effect as soon as possible. Both countries signed these agreements in 2004, but Sudanese side has not taken domestic measures necessary to make it effective, Korean side completed its domestic procedure long time ago. In case of Agreement on Production and Promotion of Investment both countries are negotiating to sign it. We want to have it as soon as possible.
Q: The trade balance is in favor of Korea now…..are there any efforts to increase the trade volume between the two countries?
A: Trade between Korea and Sudan has fluctuated depending on situations. When Korea imported crude oil from Sudan during 2000s, the trade balance was in favor of Sudan. But it is true that most of time Korea enjoyed trade surplus. As of 2014, trade balance was heavily in favor of Korea with the export of about 140 million US dollars and the import of about 30 million US dollars.
Korea's main export items were automobiles, heavy construction machinery, synthetic, resins and petrochemical products (Korean electronic goods coming from factories in other countries were not included), while its main import items were used (waste) batteries, copper, scrap and sesame.
The trade volume between Korea and Sudan at the current level is far below expectation and potential. So both countries have to make vigorous efforts to increase volume and diversify items. Especially, it is requested that the Sudanese side should make more efforts to advertise its products and goods which will be competitive for export to Korea.
Q: How many Korean companies working in Sudan and at what fields?
A: At present Korean companies are active in the field of electronic goods and automobiles. In the field of electronic goods, Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics have their own branch office in Khartoum and also are widely using Sudanese agencies in doing business in Sudan. In the field of automobiles it is encouraging to note that Korean cars are quite popular in Sudan. Hyundai Motor Company, in cooperation with Sudan's GIAD, operated an automobile assembly factory in Sudan but closed in 2012. We heard that recently the company decided to reopen the assembly factory. That assembly factory, if reopened, will significantly contribute to employment in Sudan and cooperation in the field of car industry between the two countries.
Also Daewoo International and Shinpoong Pharmaceutical Company have run a joint venture company together with Sudanese investors called GMC (General Medicine Company) to produce medicines.
In addition several Korean companies are participating in Sudanese projects such as New International Airport Project and Train Locomotive Rehabilitation Project.
Q: What are the investment opportunities for Koreans in Sudan?
A: Korea is very strong in all kinds of manufacturing industries. So as Daewoo Group did in the past in Sudan, Korean companies could consider investment in manufacturing fields.
Also, Sudan has potential for agriculture and agricultural industries. It might be possible for Korean companies to invest in crop growing, manufacturing of agriculture- related materials such as agricultural machineries and pesticide, and food processing business.
Korean companies’ decision of investment in foreign countries is based on their own judgment. Accordingly, the role of our embassy is to encourage them to positively think about investment in Sudan by providing investment- related information and fostering environment for investment by concluding investment- related agreements.
Korean companies are very much mindful of legal instruments such as the aforementioned agreements on avoidance of double taxation and promotion of investment. Accordingly, our embassy made continuous efforts to have those agreements go into effect as soon as possible.
Q: Development assistance is another field for strengthening relations between the countries, what are the efforts of Korea in this regard?
A: Korea has been a constant and reliable partner to Sudan in development cooperation. Korea's development assistance to Sudan has been on increasing trend and is playing important role in strengthening our ties.
From the beginning Korea has focused on cultivating human resources in Sudan believing that for Sudan, as Korea experienced in its development process, human resources should be also one of the most critical elements for development.
First of all we completed our project to establish a vocational training center in Khartoum during the period of 1992 to 1998 and provided additional support for it later. It became one of the most important and active training center in Sudan and is successfully operating until now producing well- trained technicians and mechanics.
Korea is now constructing an agricultural technology training center in Medani, Gezira State, with a fund totals about 6.7 million US dollars. This training center will be operating from next year.
Korea also has trained several hundred Sudanese government officials and civilians by inviting them to Korea in accordance with the training programs of KOICA (Korea International Cooperation Agency).
In addition, Korea has also carried out another important project in health- care area in White Nile State designed to combat schistosomiasis. A disease caused by parasitic worms of schistosoma type. Korea successfully implemented the first and the second phase of the project and will start its third phase from this year at much expanded scale with the fund of about 6 million US dollars.
As next stage, Korea is also planning to carry out another project called
“New Village Movement" in order to assist efforts for rural development in Sudan.
On the other hand, Korea has strengthened its cooperation with the international organization in Sudan to provide assistance on multilateral basis. Korea has carried out various projects in partnership with international organizations including two projects (a total of 6 million US dollars) with UNCIEF.
Q: Sport is another tool for building connections between nations …. What about bilateral cooperation in this field particularly taekwondo?
A: First of all, let me take this opportunity to emphasize the importance of Taekwondo in our bilateral relationship. Taekwondo originated from Korea and became Korea's national sports and martial arts. It was introduced to Sudan in 1970s and is now begin widely practiced in almost every region in Sudan. Taekwondo is an important means connecting our two countries and peoples. We really appreciate Sudanese Taekwondo Federation for having made hard efforts to introduce Taekwondo for Sudanese people and provide necessary support to Sudanese Taekwondo players.
Naturally, our embassy has keen interest in promoting Taekwondo in Sudan and has provided support to the best of its capacity. We are sponsoring Korean's Cup Taekwondo Championship from last year and have supplied various Taekwondo materials and equipment to Sudanese players.
Nowadays we are making joint endeavor with Sudanese Taekwondo Federation to bring a professional Korean coach to Sudan and are also discussing with Sudanese Government and Taekwondo Federation ways and means to establish a Taekwondo Training Center in Khartoum. We hope that these projects could be realized to the benefits of Sudanese Taekwondo players and our bilateral relationship.
On the other hand, Korea and Sudan concluded an Agreement on Exchange of Youth and Sports in 2004 and have implemented it in the manner of exchanges of visits by youth delegations of two countries. Based on the agreement, we have to make joint efforts to expand areas of cooperation into other sports.
Q: Another important field for promoting mutual understanding is cultural cooperation…….What about that?
A: Since my arrival in Khartoum two years ago. I have found that mutual awareness and understanding between our two people are relatively at low level; Sudanese people are mostly recognize Korea in terms of Korea's economic development and Korean products such as mobile phones, but do not know much about Korea itself and Korean culture.
I believe that mutual understanding and mutual favorable sentiments between our two people are extremely important as the basic foundation for propping up our bilateral relationship. So our two countries need pay more attention to promoting cultural and academic cooperation and people–to-people contacts.
Our embassy has endeavored to increase awareness about Korea in Sudan in various ways. For example, our embassy has regularly held events to show Korean movies to Sudanese people, held a Korean food festival in December last year, and on proper occasions, plans to bring Korean cultural groups to Sudan.
More important, our embassy established Korean Corner on the 1st floor in the IT center ( donated by Korea), Al-Zaiem Al- Azhari University, as kind of focal point for activities related to Korea. We invite Sudanese people interested in Korea to make the best use of this center.
Q: Many Sudanese students have received in the past scholarships in different scientific fields at Korean Universities … is such cooperation still going on?
A: In addition to KOICA, various Korean organizations such as Korea Foundation, National Institute for International Education and universities are providing scholarships for foreign students. In accordance with scholarship programs in Korea, many Sudanese students have studies in Korea.
Our embassy regards it very important in our tasks to promote our bilateral relationship to increase the number of Sudanese students who will go to Korea in accordance with Korea's scholarships program. We have continuously asked Korean organizations to allocate more scholarships to Sudan.
Also our embassy has arranged for Sudanese Universities to conclude MOUs for exchange and cooperation with Korean universities. For example this year, under good office of our embassy, Al-Zaim Al- Azhari University concluded a MOU with Korea's Kangnam University. Also under the advice of our embassy, Future University concluded MOUs with a couple of Korean universities.
I believe that the number of Sudanese students who will be accorded Korean scholarships will continue to grow.
Q: As I know there is relatively large Sudanese community in Korea … what about Korean community in Sudan?
A: Unfortunately at this moment, we have quite small Korean community in Sudan. We count a total of around 60 Koreans including embassy people and their families. But I believe that as our bilateral relationship will bounce back especially in the field of economic cooperation the Korean community will also start to grow.
Q: The Korean- Arab Friendship Society was established to strengthen relations with Arab countries …. How far it has succeeded in achieving this aim?
A: Korea-Arab Society (KAS) was established in July 2008 with a view to playing the role as a bridge connecting between Korea and the 22 Arab countries by promoting exchange in all areas covering politics, economy, society, culture and etc under the participation of governments, companies and civil organizations.
KAS has carried out such events as Arab Cultural Festival in Korea, Korea – Middle East Forum, Korea-Arab Friendship Caravan and various exchange programs.
I remember that President Al-Bashir paid an official visit to Korea on the occasion of KAS foundation in 2008. Our embassy will pay more attention to KAS activities as part of our efforts to promote our bilateral relationship.
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