Trend interviews Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of the Republic of South Korea to Azerbaijan Ji-ha Lee
Azerbaijan, Baku, Oct. 4 / Trend, K.Konyayeva /
Trend: Is Korea satisfied with the current state of political, economic and cultural relations between our countries?
Ji-ha Lee: Our bilateral diplomatic ties were established in 1992 but until 2005 the real cooperation was not a big deal. Our ties developed enormously from 2006 when our permanent embassy was established in Baku and in 2007 when your embassy was established in Seoul.
Exchange of visits of heads of states in 2006 when the president of Korea Roh Moo-hyun visited Baku and next year President Ilham Aliyev visited Seoul gave new impetus to Korean-Azerbaijani relations. After the visits our ties much more developed and strengthened in many spheres. So, even the duration of our real ties is very short, actually our ties are very much developed. We can divide cooperation on the level between governments and between companies, etc.
Cooperation between governments is carried out at the high level. During last four and half years there have been a number of exchange visits of high-level officials, in addition the presidents' visits, the speaker of the Azerbaijani Parliament visited Korea in 2007 and our premier-minister visited Azerbaijan in 2008. Last year our National Assembly's delegation visited Azerbaijan. This year Korean minister of transport and special envoy Lee Sang-deuk were here.
Soon, this year visits of very high-ranking officials of Azerbaijan such as minister of transport, emergency situations and foreign affairs will show how two governments pay attention to each other.
The Korean government considers Azerbaijan as one of thirty major partners in the world. This figure includes only two of the CIS countries: Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan. Especially this cooperation is very meaningful for Azerbaijan because as you know Korea is a unique country which has achieved industrialization and democratization during last five decades. We are ready for comprehensive cooperation with Azerbaijan to share our experience and to help the development of Azerbaijan.
With regard to cooperation in different sectors, I should say this year our two governments agreed on seven cooperation projects. The Korean government and KOICA invited this year about 80 Azerbaijan officials for training course.
Furthermore, there are several cooperative mechanisms between our two governments. As you know we organize annual meetings every year for consultations between the foreign ministers. Also, discussions were held between the ministers of transport, ministers of agricultures and ministers of environment of the two countries in 2010.
We are discussing with the Azerbaijani government both further development of these cooperative mechanisms and organization of meetings of the economic commission.
Regarding the cooperation in the private sector I should note that it is not enough developed. As you know, there are several companies such as SK C&C which is dealing with the intellectual transport management system and also another Korean company Ultra Construction and Engineering Co. which is working for the construction of a road between Ganja and Yevlah, and another company Dong Sang Engineering which is doing several projects for the construction, for example, of SOCAR's main building. However, some projects initiated between our states were cancelled. They include projects of constructing an independent power plant by the Korean company KEPCO, a new port in Baku and a ship-building company. It's a pity for us.
Talking about cooperation in cultural sector, we have had a series of cultural events, including those realized within the SEBA Azerbaijani-Korean Cultural Exchange Association. Also, we organize exchange program for the youth each year. This year we received 10 young Azerbaijani young people and vice versa. Actually, more than 100 students are studying in universities of both countries for Doctoral and Master Degree.
Similarly last year, this year 11 Korean university alumni will participate in the Baku International Educational Fair which will be held in October. This kind of things demonstrates how we value our partner relations.
Trade relations also develop rapidly. Trade turnover was very low by 2005 - $47 million. But this figure significantly increased in 2008. Last year this figure hit $446 million. I think that these figures will increase each year.
There is great potential to develop our ties. Azerbaijan is a country with rich natural resources as opposed to Korea. But Korea has rich human resources. We have rich experience in developing economy and know-how.
We can help the Azerbaijani government to develop telecommunication, information sectors and alternative energy sources in the future. We have know-how, technologies and funds.
Q: What is Korea's position on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and occupation of 20 percent of Azerbaijani territory by Armenia?
A: Korea has also very tragic and similar experience in its history - division of lands, occupation, etc. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict must be solved peacefully, on the basis of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and four U.N. Security Council's resolutions. Our position is permanent. Personally, I think that the Azerbaijani government is trying to establish good relations with all neighboring countries. So, this problem must be solved as soon as possible for the development of South Caucasus region, stability and security. A terrible tragedy is that one million people were forced to quit their homes.
Q: Azerbaijan and Korea have active economic relations, particularly in the transport sector. Most of the buses, purchased by Azerbaijan are made of Korea. Korean companies are also involved in road projects in Azerbaijan.
A: Our two countries are actively cooperating in transportation. Korean buses operate in Baku now. The two ministries of transport signed a contract to supply Azerbaijan with 1,800 buses. Roughly 1,300 buses were imported. The rest 500 buses will be brought to the country by late 2010.
Q: Previously, Korean companies have proposed to reconstruct the railway Baku - Beyuk Kesik to accelerate the traffic. At what stage is this project?
A: Since 2006, a group of Korean companies together with the ministry of transport and railway leadership worked to realize the project on the construction of the Baku-Beyuk Kesik railway section. The World Bank and the Czech Eximbank granted a credit worth $450 million and 415,000 Euro. However, Korean companies failed to join this project. But we plan to realize another joint project in railway infrastructure.
Q: The two countries are actively cooperating in developing the feasibility study of a bridge across the Baku Bay. When do you plan to complete the feasibility study? Do you think that Korean companies are ready to realize this project?
A: Concerning the construction of the bridge across the Baku Bay, this project was initiated by Azerbaijan. In 2007, minister of transport appealed to the Embassy of Korea to find a Korean Company to develop this project. In 2008, two governments signed a grant agreement during Korean prime-minister Han Duk-soo's visit to Azerbaijan.
KOICA began the feasibility study in July this year. It will be finished by July next year. The Korean government allocated $1.6 million to realize this phase of the project. If the results of the feasibility study are positive and financial conditions are good. Korean companies will to participate in this project very actively. The construction of this bridge will resolve the transportation problem in Baku. At present, Azerbaijan is constructing a ring road in Baku. The bridge will ensure its effectiveness.
I hope that the results of the feasibility study will allow continuing realizing this project. But it depends not only on Korean companies. It depends on discussions between Korea and Azerbaijan. This enormous project is worth $2 billion. We are ready to find models of financing. But at this moment we should wait for the results of the feasibility study. Several experts are working over this project. I hope they will find the ways of financing.
Q: Currently, Baku is working to create an intellectual transport management system, which aims to solve the problems of traffic jams and car traffic in the capital. The Korean experience is widely used in this project. At what stage is this process now? When will the work be completed?
A: The project of the intellectual transport management system was initiated during Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev's visit to Korea in 2007. SK C&C Company signed a contract in 2008. The term of this project is May 2008-April 2011. Until now, all necessary studies have been conducted. Basic detailed designs have been received. The real basic work in the field of electricity and communication was launched in September. So, according to the plans, the system will be commissioned until next year. All the work will be finished by April next year. Afterwards, the tests will be conducted within seven months. So, the system will function properly by November 2011.