The Russia–Republic of Korea Dialogue Forum held a strategic conference of the working groups 'Politics and International Relations' and 'Economics, Trade and Resources'. The event was dedicated to the 30th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations between Russia and the Republic of Korea.

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The online conference was attended by: representatives of the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea and the Korea National Diplomatic Academy; representatives of diplomatic bodies and major universities of both countries; JSC Russian Railways; as well as representatives of the media and business organisations.

The session was opened by the Chairman of the Korean Coordination Committee of the Republic of Korea and Ex-Ambassador of South Korea in Russia Lee Kyu Hyung. In his opening speech he shared his joy that despite the pandemic and its limitations, the representatives of the Dialogue and the expert community had an opportunity to exchange views and opinions on the current state of cooperation between Russia and Korea.

The year 2020 has been marked by a number of historically important milestones for Russia and the Republic of Korea. This year Russia is celebrating the 75th anniversary of victory in the Great Patriotic War, and the Republic of Korea is celebrating the 75th anniversary of the declaration of independence of Korea.

Chairman of the Russian DRRK Coordination Committee, Rector of St Petersburg University Nikolay Kropachev

The Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation to the Republic of Korea Andrey Kulik, the President of the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security of the Korea National Diplomatic Academy Oh Yeoung-ju, and the Consul General of the Republic of Korea in St Petersburg Kwon Dong Seok also addressed the audience with welcoming speeches. All speakers noted the importance of existing relations between our countries and the role of specialists and scientists in their development.

The conference programme included two sessions: the first focused on political interaction between the two countries over the past 30 years; and the second on economic, social and cultural cooperation.

30 years of diplomatic relations: past and future perspectives

The first session was moderated by the former member of the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea Lee Sang Don and the co-head of the working group 'Politics and International Relations', Professor at St Petersburg University Konstantin Khudoley.

Ko Jae Nam, Head of the Eurasia Policy Studies Centre, opened his speech by describing the nature of relations under the various presidents of the Republic of Korea – from Roh Tae-woo, who was the instigator of diplomatic relations with Russia, to today's South Korean President Moon Jae-In. Mr Ko Jae Nam warned against viewing South Korean–Russian relations in the context of the Seoul–Washington relationship. The expert expressed his conviction that such a vision would serve to strengthen the strategic dialogue.

The topic of major historical events was developed by Professor Sergei Kurbanov, Head of the Department of Korean Studies at St Petersburg University. He outlined and described the key dates in the history of Russian–South Korean relations: the opening of the diplomatic mission of the Korean Empire in St Petersburg in 1884; the communiqué of 1990 between South Korea and the USSR; and the Treaty of 1992. Professor Kurbanov also spoke of positive practical contacts established in the 1970s and 1980s, from the exchange of books between the capital libraries of both countries to the sponsorship of Soviet athletes by Lotte Corporation at the Olympic Games in Seoul in 1988. 'Modern South Korean diplomacy continues the legacy of the diplomatic mission of the Korean Empire, headed by Lee Beom-jin (the first Korean envoy to permanently reside in the Russian Empire - Ed.). ‘This means that South Korean–Russian relations at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries are recognised by modern South Korean diplomacy as an integral part of foreign relations between the Republic of Korea and Russia,' concluded Professor Kurbanov. He also noted the important date of 19 November 1992, when Presidents Roh Tae-woo and Boris Yeltsin signed the agreement on the relations between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Korea.

Professor Hong Wan Suk from Hankuk University of Foreign Studies presented a report on ‘30-years of cooperation between Russia, the Republic of Korea and the People's Republic of China in the field of nuclear disarmament’. He noted that Russia had played the role of a catalyst in solving problems in the Six-Party Talks on the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula. However, its position on this issue did not always coincide with that of South Korea.

This topic was continued by Gleb Ivashentsov, Vice-President of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) and former Russian Ambassador to the Republic of Korea, who pointed out that the normalisation of inter-Korean relations could ease tensions in the region. The speaker justified the position that the peace treaty between the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, which has not been signed since the ceasefire in 1953, should be bilateral and become a legal basis for the partnership between Pyongyang and Seoul. He believes that a confident and secure North Korea is a much more reliable partner than an intimidated and 'cornered' one.

The session was concluded by a discussion during which Professor Ko Sangtu from Yonsei University, Professor Chang Duck Joon from the Kookmin University, Professor Lee TaeRim from the Korean Diplomatic Academy, and Associate Professors Andrey Kovsh and Irina Lantsova presented their viewpoints.

Economic cooperation: energy, transport, finance, tourism

The second session 'Summing up 30 Years of Economic and Social Relations between Russia and the Republic of Korea, future challenges' was moderated by the head of the working group 'Economics, Trade and Resources’, Professor Chae Wook from Kyung Hee University.

Marina Kukla, Associate Professor at the Far Eastern Federal University, spoke about the shift in Russian foreign relations towards the East. The idea of the 'move towards the East' was expressed by President Vladimir Putin in 2012, said Professor Kukla at the beginning of her speech. This move meant an opportunity to use the development of the Asian region as a driver of the Russian economy. The report presented indicators illustrating the dynamics of economic relations between countries. In particular, the expert noted a significant increase in tourism in 2017, when many Koreans visited Vladivostok. However, this growth was not associated with qualitative changes in the tourism sector, as the initial visits were not followed by repeated trips.

Professor Lee Sang Joon from Kookmin University spoke about the main results of 30 years of cooperation between Russia and the Republic of Korea in trade and investment. He emphasised that the dynamics of bilateral relations are directly related to the state of the world economy. He linked the vulnerability of Korea–Russia relations in the economic sphere to the fact that the exchange is not intra-sectoral, but rather inter-sectoral: South Korean exports to Russia are mainly manufacturing and consumer goods, while Russia exports raw materials. Mr Lee Sang Joon also added that, although Korean products did not immediately find a buyer in developed countries at the end of the 20th century, they were well received by consumers in post-Soviet markets. To a certain extent this contributed to the formation of a favourable economic environment for further expansion of exports and investments to Russia.

Aleksei Astafev, Deputy Head of the Department of Foreign Projects and International Cooperation at JSC 'Russian Railways', presented a report – 'Development of cooperation with the states of the Korean Peninsula in the railway sector'. He noted that the pandemic affected all areas of the economy and especially transport. Nevertheless, freight rail services remain in demand, and many long-term international projects continue to be implemented.

Professor Eom Gu Ho from Hanyang University spoke about the results and prospects of cooperation in the energy sector. He noted that despite a number of challenges in this area, there are also powerful impulses, including the shift of focus from West to East in Russia's national energy policy and the growing demand for energy resources in South Korea.

Professor Sergei Belozerov and Associate Professor Elena Sokolovskaia from St Petersburg University presented the results of research conducted by the Laboratory of Asian Economic Studies of St Petersburg University in the field of modern financial technologies on the Russian and South Korean markets. The experts spoke not only about the current situation in FinTech in Russia and Korea, but also identified prospective vectors of cooperation in this area. Sergei Belozerov and Elena Sokolovskaia stressed that the markets for financial technologies are developing differently in our countries. Russia has a lack of regulation in some market sectors, but the country is seen as a key supplier of specialists and human resources for work in FinTech for the whole world. The Republic of Korea has tight banking regulations that make the non-banking sector and government key players in the industry.

Culture: together rather than separately

The final part of the strategic session included reports on cultural interaction. It was moderated by Inna Tsoy, Director of the ‘Russia–Republic of Korea Dialogue’ Forum Directorate and Associate Professor at St Petersburg University.

Professor Kim Hyun Taek from Hankuk University of Foreign Studies presented an overview of the 30 years of cultural cooperation between Russia and the Republic of Korea. According to him, our countries often promote cultural projects in a disparate way, pursuing their own goals. The expert emphasised the need for joint projects of mutual interest. Among such comprehensive initiatives, Professor Kim Hyun Taek voiced the idea of creating a multilateral project to bring together Russian and Korean universities implementing academic programmes in the field of arts.

Maria Osetrova, Senior Research Associate at the Centre for Korean Studies at the Institute of Far Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences and Associate Professor at Moscow State Linguistic University, spoke about trends in Russian-Korean cultural relations. The researcher thinks that despite the fact that our countries are implementing a fairly large number of cultural projects, the qualitative aspect of interaction calls for more attention. The interaction is getting 'wider', but not 'deeper', which Maria Osetrova explains is due to the lack of knowledge about the public and understanding of culture. Moreover, recent sociological surveys confirm that stereotypes in the way our peoples perceive each other are still strong. The expert urged the Russian and Korean parties not to be afraid to ask each other direct questions as it will help them to fulfil the ideal of the 30th anniversary motto 'Trust – Friendship – Action'.

The Head of the Korean Techno-Venture Foundation Kim Sang Hwoan, specialist in northern politics Pyeong Hyeong-seop and Professor Lee Ji-yeon from Hankuk University of Foreign Studies joined in the discussion of the results of the second session. The discussion was continued by Valentin Chen, Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper 'Russian Koreans'. He spoke about the work carried out by the main newspaper of the Korean diaspora in Russia, which reflects all the key events in modern Russian–Korean relations.

The Strategic Conference ended with the proposal to meet again soon, hopefully in person, in an offline format.