A series of meaningful events were successfully held in 2012 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Republic of Korea. Korea was invited to the Janadriyah Festival in Riyadh and the Kingdom to the 2012 Seoul International Book Fair, as Guests of Honor respectively. There were also more active youth exchanges than ever before. These events and exchanges have served to strengthen the friendship and broaden the horizons of mutual understanding for further cooperation between the two countries.
The Kingdom and Korea are now at a turning point, a time to look back on the past 50 years and at the same time to seek a new vision and direction for the next 50 years.
At this very important juncture, there is good news from both countries. Korea has elected its first-ever female President, Park Geun-hye, who assumed her presidency on February 25, 2013. The new President is the daughter of late President Park Chung-hee who is well known for his contribution to laying the groundwork for Korea’s economic development. He established diplomatic ties with the Kingdom in 1962 and dispatched hundreds of thousands of Korean workers who participated in building the modern Saudi Arabia. Such cooperation with the Kingdom also helped to pave the way for the economic development of Korea.
Miracle on the Han River
Former President Park Chung-hee attached great importance to relations with Saudi Arabia. Through cooperation with the Kingdom, Korea was able to build a firm basis for the so-called Miracle on the Han River and companies such as Samsung and Hyundai were able to grow into the global brands they are today.
During the 1970s when exchanges between the two countries began in earnest, President Park Geun-hye was actually engaged in national affairs as First Lady on behalf of her late mother. I am sure that she will accord great attention to friendship with the Kingdom so that bilateral relations can be taken to a yet higher level, during her term as Korean President.
In fact, it has been almost 1,200 years since Korea had a woman as head of state. There were three queens in the ancient Korean Dynasty (Shilla Dynasty). The trade between the Korean Peninsula and Arab countries began and flourished at that time. Since then, however, there has been no female supreme leader in Korea. Korean society and its culture have long been patriarchal and conservative. Women were not accorded equal treatment with men. They were in a disadvantageous position with regard to such matters as marriage, education and property rights. After this long dark time, however, the status of women has improved to such an extent that a woman has been elected as head of state.
Likewise, there is news of women’s participation in national affairs in the Kingdom. The appointment of 30 women, holding 20 percent of the seats for the new term of the Shura Council, has expanded the areas of women’s activities. This is a very advanced decision, given that women account for only 15.7 percent of the members of the National Assembly of Korea.
Women’s participation and contribution in the process of economic and social development have played a critical role in every country. In this regard, I would like to express my sincere admiration to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud for his insight and vision. Since his accession to the throne, King Abdullah has laid the fundamental groundwork for women’s social involvement by appointing a woman as Deputy Minister of Education, establishing Princess Noura University and encouraging women’s employment. This has been greatly valued by the international community.
Saudi women are indeed well qualified to contribute to the development of their country. This is demonstrated by the fact that 70 percent of masters-level graduates in the Kingdom are women. With such competence, it is firmly believed that the role of women in Saudi society will be further broadened. Furthermore, the pioneering decision of King Abdullah will contribute to fostering favorable conditions not only for the development of the Kingdom, but also for the improvement of its relations with countries all over the world, including Korea.
Marking the 51st anniversary of diplomatic relations this year, it seems that the election of a female President in Korea and women’s participation in the Shoura Council of the Kingdom are more destined and historic than mere coincidence. This means a great deal to Koreans who are not easily satisfied with the present situation. They always want something more and better. Now, Koreans are eager to further deepen the bonds of cooperation with their Saudi friends for a better future for the two countries.
For more comprehensive cooperation, it is essential to focus more on people-to-people exchanges under the flag of mutual understanding and prosperity. A great example is exchanges between young people who will lead the future of our two countries. Exchanges build closer bonds, foster a deeper mutual understanding, and most importantly, overcome barriers between us. Through these exchanges, the bonds of cooperation will ultimately expand and strengthen to a more mature and multi-tiered level.
Since the time Arab traders first visited the Korean Peninsula in the 9th century, Korea and the Kingdom have built a very close relationship emotionally, culturally and historically. Against this backdrop, it is clear that the relations between our two countries will continue to further develop in the years to come, based on their longtime friendship and future-oriented partnership.
Kim Jong-yong is the Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.