INTERVIEW/South Korean envoy to Taiwan prioritizing more systemic bilateral exchanges

06/20/2022 05:18 PM
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Chung Byung-won. CNA photo June 20, 2022
Chung Byung-won. CNA photo June 20, 2022

Taipei, June 20 (CNA) South Korea's representative to Taiwan Chung Byung-won said that one of his priorities since he took up the post last year has been to create a more systematic approach to the exchanges between the two sides.

The two Asian neighbors have always had close economic, trade and tourism ties, and with the recent inauguration of South Korea's new President Yoon Suk-yeol, bilateral exchanges are expected to expand, said Chung, head of the Korean Mission in Taipei.

Taiwan and South Korea are each other's fifth-largest trading partners, with bilateral trade of US$50.76 billion in 2021, which represented 41.98 percent annual growth, he told CNA in a recent interview, citing government data.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the travel volume between the two sides was 2.5 million visitors in 2019, with each side being the other's third largest source of international tourists, Chung said.

In the essential semiconductor industry, he said, South Korea and Taiwan are global leaders -- the former being known for its high quality memory chips, and the latter for its OEM and ODM products.

South Korea and Taiwan are not only competitors in the global semiconductor industry, but are also close partners with complementary strengths, Chung said.

For instance, semiconductor-related products account for 44 percent of South Korea's exports to Taiwan and 67 percent of Taiwan's exports to South Korea, he said, citing 2021 data.

Against that backdrop, Chung said, one of his priorities is to create a more systematic approach to supporting the ties between the two sides.

To that end, Seoul and Taipei signed a reciprocal driver's license agreement in February, with immediate effect, to make driving easier for visitors on each side, he said.

Furthermore, following the inking of a double taxation agreement last November, the two sides are now in talks on a potential financial cooperation pact, Chung said.

Those efforts are all aimed at building systematic and structural support for closer bilateral exchanges on all fronts, he added.

In addition, Chung said, he is focusing on boosting people-to-people exchanges, which have been hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic for more than two years.

With the expected easing of border controls in the second half of the year, Chung said, he is hoping that travel between the two sides will return to pre-pandemic levels.

Korean fashion show, cultural week

On the cultural front, Chung said, his office is also planning to hold a fashion show in Taipei in November, which will highlight traditional Korean clothing, known as "hanbok."

Next year, on the 30th anniversary of the Korean Mission in Taipei, a cultural week will be organized to celebrate that milestone, he said, adding that South Korean pop culture has been a big hit in Taiwan, probably because of the similarities.

Chung, 58, said he had not visited Taiwan before he took up his current diplomatic post last December, but he was familiar with Taiwanese people, food and culture, because his previous diplomatic posting was in Vancouver, where there is a large Taiwanese community.

"I had already tried many famous Taiwanese specialties like beef noodles, xiao long bao (steamed soup dumplings) and bubble tea," he said.

Over the past six months, Chung said, he has grown to love the beautiful mountains of Taiwan and has been hiking regularly on Elephant Mountain in Taipei.

Describing himself as a mountain lover, Chung said he is planning a four-day climb next month on Jade Mountain, Taiwan's highest peak.

At some time during his three-year tenure in Taiwan, he said, he would also love to participate in the annual Taipei Marathon and thereby leave his mark on Taiwan.

The Korean Mission in Taipei represents South Korean interests in Taiwan in the absence of diplomatic ties.

(By Joseph Yeh)


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