Remarks delivered by Mr. Seung-bae Yeo, Deputy Foreign Minister of the Republic of Korea
Korea-Pacific Islands Countries Seminar
Friday, 24 June 2022
Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat
Hon. Faiyaz Koya, Minister of Trade and Tourism of Fiji,
Dr. Filimon Manoni Acting Secretary General of Pacific Islands Forum (PIF),
Dr. Paula Vivili, Deputy Director-General, SPC
Ladies and gentlemen,
Bula vinaka and very good morning to you all.
It is very meaningful and an honor to be visiting the PIF secretariat, which embodies the hopes of harmony, peace and prosperity of the Pacific Islands Countries. This visit is particularly special to me, as I have served as non-resident Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to the Kingdom of Tonga, the Independent State of Samoa, the Cook Islands and Niue while serving as Ambassador to New Zealand. I would like to convey my gratitude to Deputy Secretary General Manoni and fellow PIF colleagues who have organized this occasion.
The pacific region is where the east and west cross, and a region that not only possesses abundant natural resources for food and energy sources, but also is a repository of cultural anthropology as the region has unique and various cultures. Therefore, peace and prosperity in the region is connected to the security and development of the world.
The Republic of Korea and the Pacific Island Countries are close neighbors bonded by the ocean we share, and we both have the experience of colonial rule and war during the 20th century. Korea rose from the ruins of war and achieving the miracle of the Han River, with the support and assistance from the international community. Therefore, we deeply understand the Pacific Islands’ desire for peace and prosperity.
Now, “as a global pivotal state that contributes to freedom, peace and prosperity,” Korea is willing to take a leading role in the international community. By strengthening cooperation network of mutual prosperity customized for each region, Korea will endeavor for mankind’s sustainable development. Korea will take a more active role especially for the sustainable development of the Pacific Islands Countries, which shares the biggest ocean on earth with Korea. Today’s seminar is an opportunity for us to freely discuss cooperation for mutual prosperity between Korea and the Pacific Island Countries.
(Achievements of the ROK-PIC Cooperation)
Our history of exchange is by no means short. In 1970, almost a half century ago, the Republic of Korea established diplomatic relations with the Pacific Island Countries, starting with Tonga, and continued to further develop the relations. Last year, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of diplomatic ties with Fiji, where the PIF secretariat is located. Ever since Korea became the PIF Dialogue Partner in 1995, Korea has been a sincere cooperation partner for the economic and social development of the Pacific Island Countries.
I believe that close communication is of the utmost importance to enhance partnership. Korea has been hosting the Korea-Pacific Islands Foreign Minsters’ Meeting periodically since 2011, through which the two sides strengthened the will for mutual cooperation and discussed future cooperation areas and direction, working to lay a solid foundation of prosperity for the pacific region. Even under difficulties caused by COVID-19, the 4th Korea-Pacific Islands Foreign Minsters’ Meeting was held virtually. In the meeting, which was joined by 14 Pacific Island Countries, the participants gathered wisdom for ways to strengthen resilience of the pacific and common prosperity in future.
Bilaterally, Korea has closely cooperated with the Pacific Island Countries. Meanwhile, multilaterally, Korea has implemented various cooperation projects that meets the demand of the pacific region with PIF with the Korea-PIF Cooperation Fund which was established in 2008. The fund was initially 0.3 million dollars in 2008, but it gradually expanded to reach 1.5 million dollars today.
As Korea and the Pacific Islands Countries are on the same journey to achieve sustainable development of the region, I would like to elaborate on the field where Korea has special focus on.
First, I would like to stress the importance of health, which is directly connected to human life. The COVID-19 pandemic made us humans realize once again the importance of the health and medical system. With the belief that we can overcome these difficult times by helping each other, Korea contributed 210 million dollars to COVAX AMC and pledged to contribute an extra 300 million dollars to ACT-A to assist COVID-19 response of developing countries including the PICs. For the past two years, Korea also provided COVID-19 test kits and medical supplies to the Pacific Island Countries.
Furthermore, the Korean government is actively supporting the improvement of health infrastructure and capacity building of the Pacific Islands. We will construct a national rehabilitation center in Fiji, and just yesterday, we handed over ambulances to Fiji. Also, we have recently provided motorbikes and high frequency radios for health centers in Kiribati, and we are working together with Solomon Islands to enhance its Maternal and Newborn Health system and improve its access to basic medical services.
Second, Korea is joining forces with the Pacific Islands to respond to climate change that threatens the survival and prosperity of mankind. “Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning Project,” funded by the Korea-PIF Cooperation Fund and implemented by the SPC and Korea Institute of Ocean Science and Technology, contributes to alleviate the disaster risk of the Pacific Islands by using cutting edge satellite technology. Also, “Climate Prediction Services” project, carried out by SPREP and Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH), provides customized climate forecast information for the Pacific Islands.
Third, cooperation between Korea and Pacific Island Countries is also active in the field of renewable energy, which is an important engine for sustainable development of the region. Korea is assisting the Tina River Hydropower Development Project in Solomon Islands, and constructing solar power plants in Taveuni and Ovalau islands, Fiji. We expect that the power plants, once constructions are complete, will provide substantial help to the economic development of the Pacific Islands Countries.
The importance of the ocean cannot be overemphasized for Korea, which is surrounded on three sides by the sea, and for the Pacific Islands, located in the vast Pacific Ocean. Therefore, Korea and the Pacific Island Countries have established a mutually beneficial relationship in the field of maritime and fisheries. For instance, the Korean government supports the development of maritime and fisheries infrastructure in the Pacific Islands, and implementing “Application of Multisensory Remote Sensing for Controlling Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated(IUU) Fishing Activities” with the FFA and KIOST to protect and efficiently manage the fishery resources. Moreover, through the Korea South Pacific Ocean Research Center in Micronesia, the Korea government has been sharing accumulated technology and “know-how” with the Pacific Island Countries, enhancing cooperation in maritime and fishery.
Lastly, Korea has focused on the importance of people-to-people exchanges. Despite the geographical distance, understanding and friendship built through people-to-people exchange can connect the hearts of people in Korea and the Pacific Islands. The beauty of the natural environment of the Pacific Islands is widely known to Korea and the world. Therefore, to expand people-to-people and material exchanges, Korea has carried out “Trade and Tourism Promotion Project” with SPTO and the Korea Importers Association. In addition, the Korean government also contributed to the rapid recovery of the trade and tourism sector of the PICs, which has suffered enormous damage since the outbreak of the pandemic.
(Direction of Korea-Pacific Islands Countries Cooperation)
Looking back on the path we walked together, I look forward to the journey we will be walking together in the future. The future of our cooperation will be brighter. The Korean government will continue to be a reliable partner to realize the ‘2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent,’ a goal pursued by the Pacific Island Countries.
To this end, firstly, the Korean government will expand high-level exchanges with the Pacific Islands. In last year’s Korea-Pacific Islands Foreign Ministers’ meeting, Korea and the 14 Pacific Islands Countries agreed to elevate the Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, a channel for valuable communication and cooperation between Korea and the PICs, to the summit level. Aiming to host the first Korea-Pacific Islands Summit in the near future, we are preparing for the 5th Foreign Ministers’ Meeting this October, in which we ask for your active participation. The Korean government is also planning to appoint a special representative for the Pacific Island Countries. In addition, in the near future, a Special Envoy of the Korean government will visit Fiji to further cooperation in the international arena. I hope that Korea can meet with the Pacific Islands Countries more often and explore ways to promote cooperation.
Secondly, the Korean government will continue to expand contributions for the sustainable development of the Pacific Islands. While promoting ODA in the areas critical for the development of the PICs, the Korean government will strive to expand the Korea-PIF Cooperation Fund, which currently contributes 1.5 million dollars annually. I think that climate change, education, health, and connectivity are the most important areas for development of this region. Korea will more actively share experiences and “know-hows” in these fields with the Pacific Islands and support their capacity building.
Responding to climate change, an urgent challenge for the international society as a whole, is where solidarity and cooperation is necessary. The Korean government is working on a project that invites young generations from the Pacific Islands to Korea to provide education and training opportunities in various areas including climate change response. Moreover, with Korea’s advanced technology, Korea will supply eco-friendly energy through the ocean thermal energy conversion system and help secure drinking water with seawater desalination equipment.
The Korean government endeavors to contribute to promoting trade and people-to-people connectivity of the Pacific Islands. For the Pacific Islands that have beautiful natural environment and great cultural diversity, tourism is key for sustainable growth, and Korea will help the PICs recover from the COVID-19 impact as soon as possible, and adapt to new wave of digital transformation as well. As you know, there are many excellent companies in the field of transportation and IT in Korea. The Korean government will seek ways to promote transportation connectivity and expand IT infrastructure in the Pacific Islands Countries in cooperation with the private sector.
Not only expanding the quantity of cooperation, improving the quality is also important. Currently, we are looking back and evaluating the achievements of the Korea-PIF cooperation Fund that has been operated for 14 years with the PIF, in order to identify the future direction of development. This will lead to the demands of the PICs to be actively reflected and cooperation projects to be carried out more effectively.
Moreover, the Korean government is making efforts to establish the “Korea-Pacific Cooperation Center” to manage and efficiently promote the cooperation between Korea and the Pacific Islands. With this Center, more experts on the Pacific region will be fostered in Korea and human networks will be further strengthened, and it will provide customized support for the Pacific Islands based on a deepened understanding. We will also explore joint projects with a third party, such as the US and Australia, to further promote cooperation with the PICs.
As transnational challenges, including global health crisis, climate change and economic crisis, are intensifying, the importance of international cooperation cannot be emphasized enough. Korea and the Pacific Islands are on the same boat in the largest ocean in the world, Pacific Ocean. I hope that we continuously work together for peace and prosperity, including cooperation in the international arena. I believe that today’s seminar will serve as an opportunity for us to look back on and find ways to further develop the Korea-Pacific Islands Countries cooperation and move forward towards common prosperity.