What drives the diplomatic relations between two countries, big commercial interests and strategic considerations, or can one diplomat make all the difference in the world?
In the case of the ties between Uzbekistan, a former Soviet republic in Central Asia, and South Korea, one diplomat in particular could very well have been the crucial factor: outgoing Uzbek Ambassador to South Korea Vitali Fen.
Fen, 65, returns to his home country Tuesday after completing a nearly 18-year posting here. He has been stationed here at ambassadorial-level since November 1999 ― 13 years and nine months, the longest ambassadorial posting in South Korea in recent memory.
|Outgoing Uzbek Ambassador to South Korea Vitali Fen|
But Fen’s connection to South Korea goes back even further, to before he arrived here as his country’s charge d’affaires in 1995 and set up Uzbekistan’s chancery in southern Seoul.
Whether it was because he is ethnic Korean and fluent in the language or in spite of this, Fen visited South Korea for the first-time in 1988, when he was already in his 40s and a manager-level government official in the then-Soviet Union.
He arrived ahead of the start of the 1988 Summer Olympic Games as a government officer in charge of logistics for the Soviet Union’s Olympic Team.
On seeing South Korea for the first time, Fen said the experience really opened his eyes to the dynamism and economic prowess of the country.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, Uzbekistan became an independent nation and forged bilateral diplomatic ties with South Korea in 1992.
Fen came to South Korea again in 1994 to accompany Uzbek President Islam Karimov for the first of what would eventually become seven visits by the country’s only head of the state.
Fen returned the following year, this time as a diplomat, to open the embassy and guide his nation’s relations with the third largest economy in East Asia.
In addition to the seven visits by Karimov, and four to his country by South Korean presidents, Fen can be proud of bilateral trade that increased to nearly $2 billion in 2012 from an annual two-way trade figure of practically zilch when he began his posting in 1995, not to mention accumulative South Korean investment in Uzbekistan of about $10 billion.
Fen also served as the dean of the foreign diplomatic corps here from 2007. Bruneian Ambassador to South Korea Dato Haji Harun Ismail assumed the role as dean of the foreign diplomatic corps on Aug. 1.
By Philip Iglauer (email@example.com