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‘Belarus, Korea are partners in cutting-edge innovations’

Emerging from seven decades of Soviet rule, Belarus inherited an institutional legacy of excellence in scientific education and research, highly regarded across Eurasia.

Since its independence in 1991, the country has moved toward a market economy, while preserving cardinal instruments in science and engineering.

Now marking the silver jubilee of diplomatic relations with Korea on Feb. 10, Belarusian Ambassador to Korea Andrei Popkov believes cooperation in these fields is key to unlocking the two countries’ human capital and economic potential. 

Belarusian Ambassador to Korea Andrei Popkov (Joel Lee/The Korea Herald)
Belarusian Ambassador to Korea Andrei Popkov (Joel Lee/The Korea Herald)

“Our state-led transition to the market economy has enabled us to keep these institutions intact,” he told The Korea Herald. “Many universities in Belarus specialize in natural sciences, information technology and various engineering disciplines, such as mechanical, electric and aerospace. They produce excellent engineers and scientists, who are famous across the region.”

The 25th anniversary provides an opportunity to take stock of progress and search for new directions of collaboration, the envoy added.

There are currently 20 agreements in place between Belarusian and Korean universities, and the prime pillars of institutional collaboration are the Korea-Belarus Education, Science and Technology Cooperation Center, the Joint Committee on Science and Technology and the annual Belarus-Korea Scientific Forum.

In April, the Belarusian-Korean Information Technology Cooperation Center will open in Belarus capital Minsk and carry on until 2019. The Joint Information Access Center inside the High Tech Park in Minsk has been operating since 2014, and the Korea Trade and Investment Promotion Agency inaugurated an office in the Belarusian capital the same year.

The two countries could benefit by launching joint ventures and pilot projects in information technology and applied sciences, with intellectual properties belonging to both sides, the envoy suggested. 

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko (AFP PHOTO)
Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko (AFP PHOTO)

“Strengthening relations with Korea has always been one of the top priorities of our foreign policy,” Popkov stressed. “We have regarded Korea as a country at the very heart of Northeast Asia, politically, economically and culturally.”

There are currently some 200 Belarusians in Korea, either working at Korean companies as IT specialists and engineers or studying at universities.

The two nations’ shared lack of natural resources has spurred them to excel in innovative and value-added industries, the ambassador said. He added that their tumultuous histories shaped by the Cold War and hard-power geopolitics have made them “peace-loving” countries, with strong commitment to peace and the abolition of arms around the world.

Belarus -- a landlocked country bordered by Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, and situated in the heart of Eurasia -- was devastated throughout the first half of the 20th century. During World War II, more than 2 million people perished, and over 80 percent of industrial bases and towns and villages were reduced to rubbles.

“Belarusians not only heroically resisted outside invaders through endless wars, but restored our country afterward by rebuilding industries, scientific agencies, infrastructures, schools and culture,” the diplomat said. 

A view of the Svisloch River and Minsk (Vadim Sazanovich)
A view of the Svisloch River and Minsk (Vadim Sazanovich)

The Belarusian economy, where nearly 40 percent of people work in state-owned companies, has aimed for a “socially oriented” transition to the market economy to safeguard people’s welfare, he argued.

“Nowadays, our industrial and economic policies are changing to keep pace with the world trends toward technological innovation and liberal trade.”

Belarus has free trade agreements with the Commonwealth of Independent States -- Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan -- both multilaterally and bilaterally. It also became a founding member of the Eurasian Economic Union with Russia and Kazakhstan on Jan. 1, 2015.

“Using our strategic location connecting Europe and Asia, outside investors could export to the European Union market of 510 million people and the Eurasian Economic Union and other regional markets of 280 million people,” Popkov said.

He added that Belarus has a well-developed network of motor, rail and multimodal transport connections linking the EU and CIS countries. 

The Victory Square in Minsk, Belarusian capital (Mikkalai Photo)
The Victory Square in Minsk, Belarusian capital (Mikkalai Photo)

The heavyweight industries of Belarus are manufacturing of automobiles and auto parts, machine tools, bearings, electrical products, electronics, optics, semiconductors, synthesized fibers, fertilizers, pharmaceutical products, chemicals, buildings materials, metals and foodstuffs.

Trade with Korea is largely dependent on high technology items, he said, mentioning Belarusian semiconductors for automobile parts, optics, laser products and IT solutions.

As sectors with high potential for bilateral cooperation, Popkov pointed to the new materials, precision engineering, information and communication technology, robotics, electronics, medical devices, aerospace and nano and biotechnologies.

Belarus became the biggest victim of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster on April 26, 1986, when plumes of radioactive smoke traveled through wind from what is now Ukraine and fell on its territory, largely in the southeast.

Conceding its devastating effect, which cost Belarus more than $22 billion in repairs, rehabilitation and reconstruction, the envoy said the government’s priority has moved to developing the country sustainably forward.

“The whole recovery process required complex approaches in science, health care, environmental protection, agriculture and societal welfare,” he said, adding that Belarus has accumulated empirical expertise in managing a nuclear catastrophe. “We are willing to share our unique experience and skills in overcoming the tragedy with the international community.”

By Joel Lee (joel@heraldcorp.com) 

This article on the broadsheet inaccurately described the period of Soviet rule of Belarus as an "occupation," which was corrected online. -- Ed.

The Independence Avenue in Minsk (Pavel Urusov)
The Independence Avenue in Minsk (Pavel Urusov)
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