More than 30 years after South Korea and Pakistan established diplomatic ties, a notable change took place this year marking their improving relations.
In April, Chung Hong-won became Korea’s first prime minister to travel to Islamabad. This was followed by a visit by Kang Chang-hee, then speaker of the National Assembly, who led a delegation of members of both ruling and opposition parties in January.
Their trips came as Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was inaugurated in June 2013, began to exert multidirectional efforts to rehabilitate the economy, drawing positive responses from the international community. Accordingly, Korean officials, diplomats and businessmen would like to increase their interaction with Pakistan to keep up with the positive trajectory of bilateral relations.
Pakistan’s economic potential needs to be considered in conjunction with the security situation. Despite persistent safety concerns, I am sure the situation will improve in the long run as the Pakistani government is taking serious steps to fight terrorism.
Pakistan is the world’s sixth-largest country, with an estimated population of 190 million, making it a huge consumer market. Its territory is 3.5 times larger than the Korean Peninsula and it is located strategically between Central Asia, western China and the Middle East. It also has various natural mineral resources and a labor force of 100 million.
Following the implementation of business-friendly policies by the new government, the economic atmosphere has been improving. In the fiscal year of 2013-14, Pakistan’s economy expanded 4.1 percent and the exchange rate stabilized thanks to a steady influx of foreign investment and domestic remittances from overseas citizens. Karachi’s stock market also grew a whopping 37.6 percent during the same period.
Given Korea’s rapid transformation from an aid recipient to an aid donor, Pakistan’s government and people have high regard for Korea and seek to promote bilateral relations. In response, Seoul has been supporting several grant projects on healthcare, education, sanitation and basic infrastructure. The Korea International Cooperation Agency recently completed the construction of water supply facilities for some 55,000 residents of 25 villages in Mandi Bahauddin in the northeastern province of Punjab, which were handed over to community-based organizations last month.
During meetings with the Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Lahore and Sialkot, I saw Pakistan’s vast economic potential and its entrepreneurs’ aspirations to interact further with Korea.
In Lahore, I met with Chief Minister of Punjab Shahbaz Sharif and gave him 71 books and video materials on Korea’s economic miracle published by the Korean Development Institute. As an academic, it was heartening for me to hear him say he would study Korea’s economic development thoroughly.
When I happened to meet a Korean young man in Sialkot, I truly realized that Koreans are now indeed all over the world. A young Korean entrepreneur has also joined hands with Forward Sports, a Pakistani firm that supplied official soccer balls for the 2014 Brazil World Cup, to launch a joint venture to manufacture backpacks for Adidas AG, the German sports gear maker. The two countries’ cooperation is taking place at the grassroots level.
All this happened during a three-day visit to four cities, spanning a distance of almost 2,000 kilometers, which marked the first anniversary of my ambassadorship. I could see and feel the potential of Pakistan and was convinced once again that Pakistan is a country to which South Korea needs to reach out a lot more.
By Song Jong-hwan
Song Jong-hwan is South Korea’s Ambassador to Pakistan. ― Ed.