The Secretary General of the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea Woo Yoon-keun has met SPbU Rector Nikolay Kropachev, who is also the Chairperson of the Russian Coordination Committee of the Forum “Dialogue of Russia – Republic of Korea”. Mr Woo Yoon-keun is a leader of the working group “Politics and International Relations” of the Forum “DRRK” from the Korean part. Let us remind that the outstanding Korean politician obtained a master degree in Russia: he graduated in Political Science at SPbU in 2006 and became an Honoured Professor of the University in 2016.
Mr Woo Yoon-keun told us how he sees developing relationships between the Republic of Korea and Russia after the presidential elections in May 2017, what the role of the Parliament in South Korea is, the outcomes of the Forum, and shared his reminiscences of his early days at the University.
As recently as December you visited St Petersburg. What is the aim of this trip?
I have been invited as an honoured guest of the St Petersburg International Legal Forum (http://www.spblegalforum.ru/). At the Forum I will mainly talk about why South Korea's president Park Geun-hye has been impeached. I am also planning to meet Nikolay Kropachev to discuss some of the DRRK’s events and projects.
I want to add that it is always a pleasure to be in Russia: I love your country, I lived and studied here. St Petersburg has become my home and I try to come here as often as I can.
Several days ago, May 9, 2017, you elected a new South Korean president Moon Jae-in. Does it mean that it will foster Russia-Korea relationships on a new level?
Sure, it will. Moon Jae-in is going to work on the North Korean nuclear crisis and not without Russia. The newly elected president pays much attention to Russia-Korea relationships: just after he was elected, he called Vladimir Putin and they talked over a third of an hour, which means that they both are interested in collaboration. If we want to resolve the nuclear crisis, we need to revive negotiations between six powers, as the leaders agreed. And Russia is seemingly on a par with the USA and China in this talk, so Korea wants to find common ground in nuclear weapons with Russia.
Besides, social and cultural relations between our countries are on the rise, mostly due to the “Dialogue of Russia – Republic of Korea”. The monument of Alexander Pushkin was unveiled in downtown Seoul, and St Petersburg is planning to build a monument of the prominent South Korean novelist Pak Kyongni. We have also ensured more effective collaboration between students from Russia and Korea.
Although we saw a slight decline in Russia-Korea relationships during Park Geun-hye’s presidency, nevertheless I am sure that the newly elected president will foster our relationships in politics and social sphere.
Moon Jae-in said that he is going to build a “new Korea”. How can you comment?
If we talk about domestic policy, it means that the president will definitely spur greater public engagement, get to know what the society thinks and understand their expectations and problems. Secondly, Moon Jae-in is striving to unite the society to eliminate the risk of the conflicts. Thirdly, he is going to reduce income inequality and he is planning to create more jobs for young people.
Does new presidency mean new aims for the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea? What are the reforms we can expect?
The reforms will be introduced in a number of spheres. We will continue to focus on politics and public administration: the last twenty years have proved that Korea can solve problems without any riots or actions expressing disapproval or objection, rather through law enforcement and reforms. Electoral legislation has become more transparent and democratic. We pay much attention to anti-corruption laws. The Kim Young-ran Act, which was first proposed in August 2012 by Kim Young-ran and named after him. The Act prohibits giving money or anything of value (even dinners) to public officials above certain thresholds. The decree sets limits of US$20-25 for food and drink, and US$45 for gifts. The Act imposes criminal liability or administrative fines on a public official receiving money or other benefits exceeding the thresholds. It prohibits individuals from giving or offering to give a bribe.
Can you assess how young people are engaged in politics?
Society in the Republic of Korea, and especially its younger part, are greatly interested in politics. It has always been this way in South Korea, but more recently we have seen a general rise in interest in politics in Korea. I can prove it by statistics and numbers regarding the presidential election: the turnout was over 80 %. What is more important is that Korean students who study abroad were also actively voting through our Consulates and Embassies.
Let us look at the situation with the impeachment. We could manage the political crisis peacefully, which means that the Republic of Korea is a democratic country with civil rights and opportunities.
How do you see what priorities in education, research and culture our countries should share? And what is the role of the DRRK?
Bilateral meetings between the officials and students of our universities with a focus on mutual academic projects should be on our priority list. We have already had a number of such meetings. The universities in Russia and Korea should collaborate more actively and extensively, and our task is to help in their endeavours
Today we are planning to create an office representing SPbU at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Korea. And SPbU Rector Nikolay Kropachev is going to visit Seoul in the nearest future.
What are the most important achievements of the Forum?
From the Forum “Dialogue of Russia – Republic of Korea” we can learn what results we can practically gain. I have already told about meetings between our university students and officials, which fostered civil and cultural cooperation between young people, and about the monuments to the Korean and Russian writers. I think they are among our notable achievements; still we have a long way to go.
The Republic of Korea is renowned for its quality and excellence in education. Still you studied in Russia. Why?
I love Russian literature, especially Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov, and Pushkin, and Tolstoy. I wanted to study Russian literature. Some time ago I worked as a lawyer and an advisor at the Russian Embassy in Seoul. When I was offered to study at SPbU, I very much agreed and chose Political Science.
What is the topic of your master’s thesis?
It focused on the Russian foreign policy and its role in the Pacific Region.
What are the brightest memories of the student life you had here?
Russian winters. I remember it was extremely cold, the temperature would fall under 35 ℃. I was frozen to death. And I still remember how it feels. In winters few things are as comforting as staying at home or a café devouring steaming food and sipping a cup of strongly brewed coffee.
Are Korean people who studied at SPbU in contact with their alma mater? Do they know about the SPbU’s Alumni Association?
Definitely they are. I want to open a SPbU’s Alumni Club in Seoul. It will help us to remain at the forefront of what is happening at the University and make mutual projects with the SPbU’s Alumni Association.
You have experience in Russian education. How do you think what positive experience we should share in education and research?
As I see, we should create scholarships and grants. In Korea there are students who are interested in Russia; still they cannot afford to study there. The same situation is in Russia. Our governments should create grants to offer opportunities to the talented students to get a degree in a partner-country.