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Greece, Korea mark silver jubilee

By Dionisios Sourvanos, Greek ambassador to Korea

The Greek War of Independence started on March 25, 1821, leading to the internationally recognized birth of the modern Greek state in 1830. This year, Greece celebrates the 195th anniversary of the war against the Ottoman rule and its 186th anniversary of independence.

Greece and Korea have enjoyed long friendship and cooperation through our common struggle for peace and democracy. Most importantly, the two countries forged an unbreakable fraternity through the Korean War (1950-53). Some 10,000 Greek troops fought under the United Nations Command, with 187 killed and several hundreds wounded in protecting Korea’s freedom.

We celebrate another significant milestone in our relations this year -- the 25th anniversary of bilateral diplomatic relations.

The Greek community here is small with around 350 people. They work at shipyards in Ulsan, Busan, Mokpo and other places as university professors, teachers, researchers, students and businesspeople.

The Orthodox Metropolis of Korea has eight churches and two monasteries, preserving and enhancing its presence in Korea for over 110 years. 

Greek ambassador to Korea Dionisios Sourvanos (Greek Embassy)
Greek ambassador to Korea Dionisios Sourvanos (Greek Embassy)

Last year, Greece faced exceptional challenges in accepting refugees from the Middle East. Demonstrating our steadfast commitment to humanity, we welcomed and provided shelters to those that reached our shores on the Aegean Sea, fleeing home for survival.

Our government, which assumed office seven months ago, is committed to working with all partners and honoring our obligations. We are striving to bring the country back on track toward sustainable growth. Under this context, cooperation and support from Seoul are critical.

The Greece-Korea Agreement for Economic Cooperation and the European Union-Korea Free Trade Agreement can significantly push forward our bilateral economic cooperation. Both countries are currently working to launch a joint ministerial committee that will take place in Athens on May 23.

In recent months, Greece has overcome many aspects of its economic crisis. Our public finances have been stabilized and the banking system has been recapitalized. Structural reforms are currently underway to restore our economic competitiveness.

It is high time for Korean companies to invest in Greece, in sectors such as energy, telecommunications, maritime technologies, banking, tourism, fiber optics, logistics and transportation. They can take advantage of immense opportunities created out of the crisis.

Greece is an ideal gateway to central and Eastern Europe. Major regional projects are underway, including the Trans Adriatic Pipeline and a large investment by Chinese company COSCO in Piraeus Port.

Shipbuilding is the most important sector in our bilateral cooperation. Greece, one of the world’s largest maritime nations, accounts for roughly one-quarter of Korean shipyard orders. Our maritime equipment manufacturers are keen to supply excellent products. Last October, twelve Greek companies participated in the Korean international exhibition KORMARINE 2015, delivering positive results.

Greece is an excellent market for Korean industrial products, such as automobiles and electronics. Korean firms have undertaken several large-scale projects, including the supply of subway vehicles and public transport electronic ticketing.

In recent years, interest in Greek products has surged in Korea. These include food and beverages such as canned fruits, olive oil, wine, dried fruits, mastic, herbs, as well as cosmetics, chemical products, minerals, tobacco and marbles.

Tourism, with more than 23 million tourists visiting Greece annually, is the engine of our economy. Blessed with magnificent natural beauties, and unique historic and cultural treasures, it is becoming an attractive destination for Korean tourists. Interest to Greece has also been stimulated by a series of Korean television broadcasts, including the drama series “Descendants of the Sun,” which was shot on the island of Zakynthos. Last summer, direct charter flights to Greece were introduced for the first time.

The Hanguk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul has a Greek studies department providing education on Hellenic history and literature. It is transforming Korean students into ambassadors of Greece.

Our government plans to increase research and development expenditure for our young and talented scientists and researchers. Success stories of bilateral cooperation include a joint research project in microelectronics between Samsung Electronics and technology cluster Corallia. Korea and Greece can also take advantage of the European Union program “Horizon 2020.”