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Belarus and Korea: future prospects based on 25 years of successful cooperationInterview with Ambassador Andrei Popkov of Belarus in Seoul

Ambassador Andrei Popkov of Belarus in Seoul said that President Alexander Lukashenko of his country sent his letter of congratulation to President Moon Jae-in of Korea on his election and that in this letter President Lukashenko emphasized his hopes for further deepening and strengthening the bilateral relations in many different areas, including economic, scientific and IT (information and telecommunication)field.

2007, Prime Minister of the Republic of Belarus Sergei Sidorsky and President of the Republic of Korea Roh Moo-hyun (photo by: BELTA News Agency)

Speaking at a recent interview with The Korea Post media, publisher of 3 English and 2 Korean-language print and internet news media outlets, Andrei Popkov, Ambassador of Belarus in Seoul, noted that the President of the Republic of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko took very strong interest in the promotion of bilateral relations, especially in view of the fact that the two countries celebrated the 25th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations between Korea and Belarus. Ambassador Popkov said, “Our attitude is very positive. President Lukashenko sent his letter of congratulation to President Moon Jae-in of Korea on his election in which he emphasized his hopes for further deepening and strengthening the bilateral relations in many different areas, including economic, scientific and IT (information and telecommunication) field.

2014, Minister of Communications and Informatization of the Republic of Belarus Sergei Popkov and Minister of Science, ICT and Future Planning of the Republic of Korea Mr. Choi Yang-hee (photo by: BELTA News Agency)

Republic of Belarus is known in Korea as a country very well developed in the IT industry. And naturally Ambassador Popkov was asked, “Which area of cooperation in the IT industry do you think will be appealing to Korean counterparts?”

Ambassador Popkov said: “IT technology is a very promising area for bilateral cooperation. Opening of the Belarus-Korea IT Center in Minsk this year proves this statement. This is a good starting point of the cooperation between Belarusian and Korean experts. In 2014 Korean Information Access Center was launched in High-Tech Park in Belarus. The functioning of a Korea Access Center also provides good chances for expanding contacts between Belarusian and Korean IT companies.

2015, Meeting between the Working Group of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus on cooperation with the Parliament of the Republic of Korea and Korea-Belarus Parliamentary Friendship Group (photo by: BELTA News Agency)

Ambassador Popkov then was asked in addition to the Korean companies already there what other Korean companies would be welcome in the country.

He said: “We are specialized in automotive industry, including production of heavy trucks, passenger cars, and different kinds of auto components. This is possibly one of the areas we expect more Korean companies to enter. Republic of Korea is very strong in this industry. Also Belarus has a very developed petro-chemical section. We can cooperate in this field as well. IT, electronics production, pharmaceuticals are some areas open for cooperation. We can consider some cooperation in fashion industry and cosmetics as Belarus has a good basis for that.

2016, meeting between Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus Vladimir Makei and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Korea Yun Byung-se in New York(photo by: Belarus MFA)

“We managed to preserve rich industrial heritage of the Soviet Union. Our factories and plants which are major producers of electronics, machinery, automotive components, home appliances, etc. in post-Soviet countries are eager to discuss joint projects with Korean companies.

2017, Vice Prime Minister of the Republic of Belarus Vladimir Semashko at the opening ceremony ofBelarus-Korea Investment and Economic Forum (photo by: Embassy of the Republic of Belarus)

Belarus is very much interested in cooperation with companies specializing in hi-tech products, since we are focused on creation of a knowledge-based economy. We develop our scientific schools, engineering schools. Of course, we are interested in cooperation with big companies, such as Samsung, LG, Hyundai, Kia etc., but small and medium-sized companies are also welcome to enter our market. We have a National Program of supporting small and medium-sized businesses. Korean companies can also be attracted by Belarusian capacities and its geographical location between Europe and Asia.”

(From Right) Ambassador Andrei Popkov of Belarus in Seoul and Chairman Lee Kyung-sik of The Korea Post

Further details of the interview follow:

Question: What are the important developments scheduled between Korea and your country, including the possible visit of your Head of Government to Korea?

Answer: First of all, I would like to mention that this year is the 25th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations between the Republic of Belarus and the Republic of Korea. This is a good opportunity to assess achievements and launch new directions of cooperation. Summarizing the results of the first half of the year we can say that it indeed has been successful in terms of boosting our relations.

We have already held several major events this year. In March Belarus-Korea IT Cooperation Center was opened in Minsk. This center provides us the opportunity to work closely on specific mutually beneficial IT-projects.

In April the 2nd Joint Belarus-Korea Committee on Science and Technology and Belarus-Korea E-Government Cooperation Forum were held in Seoul and Minsk respectively. During these events several agreements on cooperation in the field of ICT, science and technology were signed.

In May we held Belarus-Korea Investment and Economic Forum. We are grateful for the support we have received when organizing the event from our partners, such as Korean Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the National Agency for Investments and Privatization of Belarus. It was one of the major economic events of bilateral cooperation during last few years. The delegation was headed by the Vice Prime Minister of the Republic of Belarus VladimirSemashko. The representatives of Belarusian ministries and leading manufacturers have taken part in the forum. Within the framework of the forum, the economic potential of our country, the advantages of cooperation with Belarus, as well as a number of promising investment projects were presented. Belarusian and Korean partners also signed a number of agreements aimed at further development of bilateral trade and economic cooperation.

Mir Castle Complex, UNESCO World Heritage site

The Embassy is currently focused on arranging a number of bilateral events which are to be held during the second half of the year. We have plans for stirring up political dialogue between the countries through promoting inter-parliamentary cooperation.

We are going to hold a number of cultural events so that Korean people could learn more about the history and great cultural heritage of Belarus.

Minsk, capital of Belarus (photo by: S. Melnik)

Q: What are the main commodities of bilateral trade and its outlook in future?

A: Bilateral trade is full of high-technology items from both sides. For instance, Belarus supplies to Korea semiconductors, which are used for production of Korean automobile and electronic devices. Some other commodities worth mentioning are optics, lasers, IT services, carbon fibers, potassium fertilizers.

The trade turnover between Belarus and Korea has a potential for increasing. We look forward to introducing Belarusian high-quality food products, such as dairy, confectionary, juices to Korean customers. Our textile and cosmetics industries are renowned of their high quality goods made of natural components. We are sure they will become popular on the Korean market given some promotion effort.

River Pripyat(photo by: S. Plytkevich)

Q: What are your competitive fields of industry and products attractive to Korea and what are Korean products and services that your country might wish to import? What are the areas in your country where you want Korean companies to invest and what are the areas where you wish your businessmen to invest in Korea?

A: The most advanced branches of Belarusian industry are motor-car construction and auto components manufacturing, machine-tool construction and bearing production, electrical industry, electronics, optics, semiconductors industry, oil mining and processing, production of synthesized fiber and other chemical materials, fertilizers, pharmaceutical industry, production of building materials, timber industry, metallurgy, light and food industries. The main feature of national industry is the production of finished and semi-finished commodities, the most part of which are exported. The above branches of industry can be attractive for Korean companies and other foreign investors.

Mir Castle Complex, UNESCO World Heritage site

One of strategic resources of Belarus is the advantageous geographical location. Belarus as a country on the ways from Europe to Asia supports effective cooperation in Eurasia. Belarus has common borders with European Union and upholds cooperation with its Member States. I should notice that the large portion of our commodity turnover relates to the EU countries. It enables companies to benefit from the target markets of EU countries with around 500 million consumers, on one hand, and Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and other countries of the region with their 280 million consumers, on the other hand. It also provides direct access to the 182-million market of five EAEU countries.

Nature of Belarus (photo by: N.Zaharchenko)

Being a landlocked country, nevertheless, Belarus has an access to the seaport infrastructure of neighboring countries, including Russian Federation, Baltic States and Ukraine. Belarus has a developed network of motor- and railroad system of communication between EU and CIS countries, transit communications and developed infrastructure. Belarus is crossed by one of the main Eurasian routes, including shortest transportation lines from central and eastern regions of Russia to the countries of Western Europe and from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea. Thus, Belarus can effectively contribute to the functionality of multimodal transport systems linking Asia with Europe.

I would like to highlight the strong prospects in bilateral trade and industrial cooperation both in private sector and areas of government control, such as nuclear safety and health care.

After the Chernobyl disaster, which mostly affected Belarus, we had no choice but to become world leaders in radiation monitoring technologies, which can be widely used in Korea with its strong share of nuclear energy.

Pharmaceutical industry in Belarus is supported by a comprehensive state program and provides a duty-free access to the market of five member states of the Eurasian Economic Union. The Industrial zone “BelBioGrad” under the auspices of National Academy of Science of Belarus is established in order to assist with the development of bio-, nano-, pharm-, and other science-intensive technologies.

We already have promising projects in pharmaceuticals with Korean partners. At the moment Belarus-made medicine “Photolon” for cancer treatment is showing great results at clinical tests, particularly, at the Asan Hospital in Seoul.

Q: Who are the Korean companies actively engaged in the promotion of economic cooperation between Korea and your esteemed country?

A: Belarus and Korea attach great importance to the development of the cooperation in the scientific and technical sphere.

The “SK Hynix” South Korean corporation, one of the largest Korean manufacturers of memory chips, has opened its own R&D center in the Republic of Belarus which functions as a resident of the Belarusian High-Tech Park.

Since 2006, the President of the company “IK Semicon Co., Ltd.” Mr. Yoon Kyung Duk has been the Honorary Consul of the Republic of Belarus in the Republic of Korea. “IK Semicon Co., Ltd.” has been working with JSC "INTEGRAL", the biggest Belarusian manufacturer of semiconductors, for many years. “IK Semicon Co., Ltd.” is engaged in design and development of microcircuits for equipment of domestic appliances and Korean-made cars.

I would like once again mention the Korean Chamber of Commerce and Industry and their invaluable help in organizing Belarus-Korea Investment and Economic Forum.

We also maintain relations with Korea Importers Association and other major business associations of Korea. Belarus companies and research institutes carry out joint projects in the area of science and technology with leading Korean company groups.

Unfortunately, the format of the article does not allow us to mention all the Korean companies that have been reliable partners for Belarus for many years.

Q: Please introduce in detail the National Day of your esteemed country.

A: The Republic of Belarus has rich history, unique cultural and national identity as well as the ancient roots of its statehood going back to the 9th-10th centuries when the earliest state formations appeared in the lands of modern Belarus.

Over the history many times due to its strategic position in the European region Belarus was a seat of bitter wars and experienced serious sufferings.

The modern history of Belarus starts in 1917. Since January 1, 1919 Belarus existed as Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic which was one of the highly developed republics of the Soviet Union. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 Belarus emerged as an independent state with the new official name – the Republic of Belarus. Nowadays, Belarus is an independent, sovereign and peace-loving State that stands for the rule of law at international arena.

The Belarusian Independence Day is officially celebrated on the July 3rd that is the Day of Liberation of the capital of our country – Minsk in 1944. The decision to celebrate the Independence Day on this date was made during a referendum in 1996. Belarus suffered the great losses during the war but managed to mobilize the strength of the nation in order to secure its prosperous future in the post-war period. This is the symbolic meaning of the Independence Day of Belarus.

Bisons in Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park

Q: What are the attractive tourist destinations of your country?

A: Belarus is a country with a beautiful nature, rich cultural and historical heritage. Our country is known as a country of lakes, rivers and forests. We have several National Parks in which we preserve unique species of flora and fauna. BelovezhskayaPushcha National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 19 topographic points of the Struve Geodetic Arc which is also a part of UNESCO world heritage are located in Belarus.

Belarus has its own unique architecture. There are many ancient churches, cathedrals and castles of XII–XVII centuries in Belarus. Two Belarusian castles are also inscribed in UNESCO World Heritage List. We hope that Independence Avenue, main street of Minsk, will also be added to the list as it is an outstanding embodiment of ensemble of Soviet post-war architecture.

During past few years Belarus hosted a number of international sports events, for example World Hockey Championship in 2014. Next year Belarus will host more than 70 international sports events. In the year of 2019 Minsk will host 2nd European Olympic Games and in 2021 Belarus and Latvia will co-host Ice Hockey World Championship.

Belarus is a welcoming country which has a lot to offer to any kind of tourist: a new cultural experience, great opportunities for eco- and agrotourism, a great number of events for sports enthusiasts and a lot of other activities.

Moreover, starting from February 12, 2017 visiting Belarus has become much simpler. According to the Presidential Decree #8 Belarus has introduced 5-days visa-free regime for the nationals of 80 countries all over the world including Korea.

Q: As Your Excellency is relatively new in Korea, please introduce yourself in detail, including your career, family and hobbies.

A: I have been working at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus for more than 20 years. My work abroad includes posting to the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Belarus to the United Nations in years 2001 – 2005. Before being posted to Korea I worked as the Director of General Department of Legal Affairs and Treaties of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I hold PhD in law as a result of my research in the area of international law both in Belarus and abroad.

My mission as the Ambassador to the Republic of Korea officially started in September 2016. From June to August I had a number of important meetings to discuss with Belarusian governmental bodies, agencies and representatives of business and scientific communities the prospects for cooperation with Korea. All these contacts enabled me to understand better priorities of bilateral relations before my arrival to Seoul.

I have a spouse and a son who are staying with me here. My son is 10 years old. Raising a child in any country requires a lot of attention and responsibility. He started learning taekwondo since he came to Korea. My son is very enthusiastic about it and happy to learn something new.

From right: Ambassdor Andrei Popkov of Belarus in Seoul and Kim Tae-mun of The Korea Post media

Sean Kim  edt@koreapost.com

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