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[Herald Interview] Estonian leader highlights shared values, historical struggles as basis for stronger ties
Baltic nation opens embassy, first-ever business hub in Seoul in pursuit of stronger tiesBy Sanjay Kumar
Published : Oct. 12, 2023 - 17:38
Estonia and South Korea have more in common than one might realize. From historic struggles to defend their freedom to the goal of building a digitally advanced democracy, their similarities and shared values work to unite the two nations on both security and the economy, Estonian President Alar Karis, told The Korea Herald in an interview in Seoul.
“More than ever, the security in the Euro-Atlantic area and the security in the Pacific region around Korea are interconnected. We understand first-hand the challenges that you face as a peaceful democracy with autocratic neighbors,” Karis said at a forum held in Seoul on Wednesday.
“Our histories taught us the importance of a rules-based international order, where each country has the right to determine its path. Today, we must unite in our efforts to safeguard the world based on our shared values.”
Karis held a summit with his South Korean counterpart Yoon Suk Yeol on Thursday, as part of his official trip to the country, and attended the signing of the Korea-Estonia aviation agreement. At the summit, Yoon lauded the robust collaboration between IT powerhouses in Korea and Estonia in areas like cybersecurity and e-government. He expressed his hopes for expanded future cooperation across different fields, including research and development and the defense industry, according to Yoon's office.
Karis responded, saying he hopes to enhance cooperation with Korea in the globally competitive defense and digital sectors.
Both leaders hailed the agreement, noting that it will provide a crucial framework for increasing both human and material exchanges between the two nations.
The Estonian leader also traveled to Korea to inaugurate the opening of its embassy and its first-ever business hub in Seoul.
“With everything that connects us in the past and in the present, I am very pleased to open the Estonian Embassy in Seoul to intensify our cooperation even further. For a small nation with limited resources, this is a very significant step,” he said.
Estonia opened its first-ever Estonian business hub in Seoul to facilitate exports, attract investment, introduce Estonia as a destination for travel and study, and serve as a hub for e-residency activities.
Estonia is a gateway to markets of Europe and the European Union, Karis said, highlighting his country as Northern Europe’s hub for knowledge and digital business.
“Doing business in Estonia is easy,” he said, inviting Korean companies to visit Estonia and highlighting minimal bureaucracy and the emergence of Estonia as a leading country in startups, unicorns and venture capital in Europe.
"As Estonian companies innovate, so does the Estonian government,” said Karis, pointing to Estonian ICT companies that have built a digital society where 99 percent of government services are available online.
“I invite you to experience it directly as an e-resident of Estonia,” he said.
Estonia is the first country to offer 100 percent online residency. The e-residency program allows non-Estonian people to create a digital identity in the country and run businesses without having to physically reside in the country.
According to Karis, nearly 2,000 Koreans have an e-residency in Estonia, and almost 200 Koreans have established a company digitally in Estonia, a part of the European Union.
"The future is bright, as you can see business people are meeting, and we have had ... not only diplomatic (relations before this), but business and cultural relations too,” he said. "Quite a number of (Koreans) have studied at the Estonian Academy of Music … It’s important to come and see (it) with your own eyes."
The Baltic nation officially forged diplomatic ties with South Korea in 1991, but relations between the two nations date back ever further.
"In 1919, our politicians met when traveling the world to garner international support for our newly formed republics," President Karis said.
"They understood and supported each other's views. But both Estonia and Korea had to endure great hardships before being able to stand here today as successful and prosperous democracies." The Republic of Estonia gained its independence from the Russian Empire in 1918 and from the Soviet Union in 1991. Estonia is also a member of NATO.
The president also referred to two encounters between politicians of Korea and Estonia in 1919 and 1920.
At the Second International Conference held in 1919 in Lucerne, Switzerland, Jo So-ang, a member of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea, met Estonia's representative, Mihkel Martna, who sought support for Estonia's independence efforts. The Estonian Embassy in Seoul told The Korea Herald that Jo So-ang later visited Tallinn, Estonia's capital, in 1920, during which two articles supporting Korea's independence efforts were published in Estonian newspapers. Although there were plans to pass a declaration supporting Korea's independence efforts in the Estonian Parliament, it ultimately was not approved.
Karis, who is Estonia’s sixth president, took office in 2021. Prior to his presidency, he served as the director of the Estonian National Museum. He built his earlier career in the field of science, where he researched and taught molecular genetics and developmental biology.
Staff reporter Shin Ji-hye contributed to this article. -- Ed.
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