Ambassador Hoon-min Lim
South Korea and Ethiopia have enjoyed a long and rich bilateral relationship based on aid, trade and security. South Korea is seen as a worthy nation to emulate as Ethiopia attempts to change its narrative from an aid-dependent nation to one that is capable of funding its own economical ambition. The South Korean ambassador to Ethiopia, Hoon-min Lim reflects with The Reporter’s Samuel Getachew on the historical relationship, on Ethiopia’s role during the Korean War that helped liberate the nation, on the new development between North –South Korea and on its lived-experiences that Ethiopia can learn from. Excerpts:
The Reporter: Mr. Ambassador, you moved to Ethiopia from New York a year ago to represent South Korea. What have been the highlights so far?
Ambassador Hoon-min Lim: I came to Ethiopia in January 2018 as the 18th Ambassador of the Republic of Korea. Before this appointment, I have worked at five overseas missions in Italy, Thailand, Geneva, Ukraine and New York. Main field of interest in my diplomatic career for 29 years has been the multilateral affairs such as the UN and development cooperation.
The most memorable was the experience of working as the coordinator during the Korea’s presidency of UN ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council) from 2015 to 2016, leading discussions on the establishment of implementation and review of the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) at the international level.
It also remains as pleasant memory that I completed the process of Korea’s accession to OECD DAC (Development Assistance Committee) and also made a meaningful contribution to Korea’s efforts to advance its ODA policy while working as a head of the development cooperation policy at the headquarters.
Your predecessor left his position under controversy and now he is in prison convicted of sexual crimes. While I understand, the victims are South Koreans, the act happened within Ethiopia. Any reaction?
I have known my predecessor personally for a long time. He was a very competent diplomat and I feel sorry for him to have made such a mistake. Even though his mistake was a matter of private realm, it provided an opportunity to review and reinforce discipline off foreign service officials. However, the incident had no impact on the bilateral relations between Korea and Ethiopia.
South Korea and Ethiopia have enjoyed a rich relationship, especially after the Korean War, which Ethiopia took side and supported your nation. How important is the relationship your nation has with Ethiopia?
President Mulatu Teshome once defined the relationship between Korea and Ethiopia as “Friendship forged in blood” during his visit to Korea in 2015. The former President of Korea, Park Geun-hye also described the bilateral relations as “brothers by blood” when she visited Ethiopia one year later. I believe this clearly shows how Korea sees Ethiopia.
Ethiopia is more than just a friendly country to Korea. It is “a country of brotherhood” to us. Koreans have not forgotten the sacrifices of Ethiopian soldiers who fought to defend Korea’s freedom and democracy during the Korean War.
Based on this historical bond, the bilateral relationship between two countries is quite satisfactory. Korea is actively engaged in people-to-people exchange with Ethiopia, including high-level officials, and economic cooperation between two countries has been more active than ever. The amount of official development assistance (ODA) the Korean government provides to Ethiopia is among the highest in Africa. Korean language and culture have become quite familiar among the Ethiopian people, and the number of Ethiopian students studying in Korea is now increasing.
Indeed, the two countries are closer than ever before.However, given the potential of our bilateral ties; I think there is large room for further development in our relationship. While appreciating currentrelationship between the two countries, I would like to emphasize that our bilateral ties must go beyond existing level with more active exchangesin the private sector.
While two countries now enjoy very active cooperation in the political sphere, bilateral trade and investment remains below its full potential. As Ambassador, I will try to strengthen economic cooperation between two countries, in particular attract more investment in Ethiopia by Korean companies.
Continuous promotion of ODA to Ethiopia is another major task. Korea’s ODA to Ethiopia is already the highest in Africa, and we are focusing on the specific areas in accordance with Ethiopia’s second Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP II). We will continue to make these efforts to ensure that ODA is utilized in a direction that truly helps Ethiopia’s economic and social development.
In order to enhance mutual understanding between the two people, we will also continue to expand cultural events organized by the Embassy including “Korean Culture Week” of which the 3rd event will be held 29 September thru 1 October.
I want you to reflect on the recent activities between South-North Korea and compare it with the recent development between Ethiopia and Eritrea. What can both nations learn from the experiences of one another?
First of all, I would like to briefly introduce the Korean President Moon Jae-in’s initiative for denuclearization and sustainable peace on the Korean peninsula.
By the end of last year, the international communitywas seriously concerned about North Korea’s increasing nuclear and missile capability and growing threats of war on the Korean Peninsula. Even when no signs of peace were visible, President Moon constantly pushed forward with his initiative for inter-Korean dialogue which leads to the peace process between two Koreas. His efforts bore fruits when North Korean leader Chairman Kim Jong Un responded – by dispatching not only athletes but also his special envoy to Pyongchang Winter Olympic Games last February.
To improve inter-Korean relations is inevitably associated with progress in denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula which involvesdifficult and complicated negotiations between the North and the US. Thus, we have endeavored to ensure that denuclearization and the peace process on the Korean Peninsula work in a mutually reinforcing way.
So far, the inter-Korean summit was held three times with the Panmunjom Declaration agreed in April and the Pyongyang Declaration released in September. These Declarations are agreements for reconciliation and cooperation between two Koreas and are now being implemented, in particular easing military tensions, strengthening economic, social and cultural exchanges between the two Koreas, and reuniting separated families during the Korean War. Most of all, the inter-Korean summit hasfacilitated the resumption of the denuclearization talks between the United States and North Korea which had been in a stalemate since the US-North summit in June.
Korean President Moon Jae-in and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed are in common in pursuing a bold initiative towards peace and co-prosperity that no one can even imagine. Two countries are actively supporting each other’s peace initiative. Ethiopian Government officially announced its support to the Panmunjom Declaration in April, and my Government also expressed its welcome and support to the adoption of the Declaration on Peace and Friendship between Ethiopia and Eritrea last July. I hope to see two leaders meet together and exchange their views on their initiatives candidly in the near future.
While there are few South Korean companies operating in the country, the contribution of your nation to development is paramount. Tell me about some of the activities of the development arm of your Embassy?
Ethiopia is No.1 recipient country of official development aid by KOICA (Korea International Cooperation Agency): since its establishment in 1995, KOICA office in Ethiopia has expanded its aid to Ethiopia, particularly in areas of water management and public health; rural development and raise of income; transportation; and energy, with total amount of 126.5 million USD from 1991 to 2016. Other than these projects, more than 50 KOICA volunteers are now dispatched throughout the country, sharing experience of Korea in its economic development, providing medical assistance, helping capacity-building of research and development sector of Ethiopia, involved in vocational training for Ethiopian youth, improving gender equality and distributing advanced agriculture techniques.
On the other hand, EDCF office of Korea is also actively engaged in Ethiopia’s infrastructure projects, such as Gore-Tepi road improvement project, Mojo-Hawassa Highway project and Suluta-Gebreguracha electric grid project. Their financial support from 2018 to 2020 amounts to 500 million USD.
South Korea was once an aid dependent nation but is something of an exemplary with its economic advancement in the last few decades. Share with me the highlights.
Like the current Ethiopian Government, the Government of the Republic of Korea adopted 5-year Economic Development Plans, particularly in 1960s and 1970s, in order to recover from ashes of the war and rebuild its economy. As a result, Korea accomplished annual growth rate higher than 8% for decades which is referred to as “Miracle of the Han river.” Keys to this remarkable development can be pointed out as: 1) export-oriented growth 2) effective investment policy 3) educated human resources.
Firstly, Korea needed overseas market in order to grow beyond its limited domestic market, and therefore it imported raw materials from resource-abundant countries, processed to create value added, and exported it to huge consumer market abroad. Success of this policy could also address the shortage of hard currency which is necessary for nascent economies for further growth.
Secondly, Korea had effective investment policy: While the Korean Government made a great deal of efforts to attract foreign investment, it also encouraged its people to save, for savings can be used to finance important projects with relatively low burden of interest. In addition, the Korean Government put priority on building infrastructure and core industries, such as railways and highways, steel manufacturing and petro-chemical industries, etc, which can serve as a springboard for other industries. In order to secure sustainable growth of these industries, Korea also made a huge investment in research and development, in order to lead the development as the forerunner in the relevant areas.
Lastly, Korea has abundant educated human resources (In 2016 Korea ranked fourth in terms of college graduates among the OECD member states): it is partly because of the mindset of Koreans that higher education provides more opportunity to improve their lives and such belief has a point: qualified labors were in high demands in the post-war Korea, hired in every corner of its economy, and contributed a great deal to the rapid development.
What can Ethiopian learn from the experiences of South Korea in the reshaping of its still aid dependent economy?
Korea and Ethiopia have much in common: both are proud nation, well aware of the importance of education, have willingness to sacrifice for future generation, have strong will to learn from others and grow further, and have the brilliant leadership to support the eagerness of people for better life.
If Ethiopia could unlock its full potential based on the aforementioned strength, avoid the tendency to depend on foreign aid, get united rather than divided out of tribalism, and learn lessons from other countries’ successes and failures in order to reduce the time for further development, I think that Ethiopia will emerge as one of the leading economies not only in the African continent but also in the international arena.
Ethiopia has used much of foreign investment to change its narrative especially in the last decade. What needs to be done to lure some of the brand name South Korean multinational to invest in Ethiopia?
We are aware of the potential of the Ethiopian economy: abundant labor, huge domestic market with more than 100 million consumers, and the willingness of the Federal Government to attract foreign direct investment.
However, we cannot deny that the situation on the ground still leaves something to be desired: to name a few, shortage of hard currency raises significant challenges for multinational companies to trade in foreign currency; complicated laws and regulations on customs procedures as well as high logistics costs prevent the goods and services from moving freely. We hope that ongoing political and economic reform led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed could see progress in the near future and contribute to creating more favourable environment for our investors.
The South Korean week is coming up soon in the capital. Tell me about that?
“The 3rdSelam! Korean Week” starts on September 28, and you can enjoy various layers of Korean culture in Addis Ababa until October 1: three Korean movies will be screened at Century Mall (near Megenagna Station and Geological Survey of Ethiopia) from September 28 to September 30 and you can also grab a bite of Korean snacks and beverages at the Korean Café at the Food Court of the Mall before the movie begins.
If you are interested in Korean food, you can join the cooking class on Kimchi at the Ambassador’s residence at 11:00 am on September 29. After the class, buffet-style traditional Korean dishes will be served for the guests.
Taekwondo, Korean traditional martial art, is also a part of this festival. On September 29, there will be whole-day competition at the Ethiopian Youth Sports Academy. Please come and cheer up the Ethiopian athletes.
If you have an ear for music, you will be interested in the performance by the small orchestra team, “Beautiful Mind” on September 30 at Myungsung Church (located in the compound of Myungsung Korean Hospital).They will play a number of world-famous pieces, such as “Nella Fantasia” from the theme of the movie <Mission>, “This is the Moment” from musical <Jekyll and Hyde>, “Moonlight Sonata” of L. Beethoven, and other Korean traditional folk music. The Embassy cordially invites the readers of the Reporter to these events.