Park Hee-kwon / Republic of Korea’s Ambassador
Alberto Rubio. 29/01/2018
Park Hee-kwon was posted to Spain in July 2014. Now, in his farewell, the ambassador of the Republic of Korea affirms that “I can not help feeling proud and sad at the same time”.
Why do you feel that way?
Sad because I have to leave Spain, a country so beautiful. And proud of the many great things that I have achieved during my term.
Undoubtedly, the relationship between Spain and Korea has made vast strides, not only in the political sphere, but also in others as economic, cultural and social.
Mainly, we have managed to expand bilateral cooperation in key sectors for the development of our economies and our societies, such as construction of infrastructures in third countries, scientific technology and ICT. I do not want to mention that Korean tourists who visit Spain have more than doubled in the last three years.
Throughout this time, what has been your greatest satisfaction?
On top of, as I mentioned, the dramatic increase of Koreans visiting Spain, our cultural exchanges have also experienced a significant boost. This can be seen, for example, in the great popularity of the so-called ‘Korean Wave’, which has spread among young people all over Spain, or in the growing number of Spanish students who wish to study in Korea.
Korea, on the other hand, has a great interest in the Spanish language and culture. Ours is the Asian country with the highest number of people who take the DELE test, the Diploma of Spanish as a Foreign Language. Great Spanish classic authors, like Cervantes, have a tremendous success in Korea.
Also, last month I signed a Youth Mobility Agreement with the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alfonso Dastis. I hope that this agreement provides a great opportunity to further increase the exchange of young people between both countries.
Have you had any “complicated” time?
I have achieved most of the objectives that I set at the beginning of my service as Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to Spain. Perhaps the only thing I have left pending is the visit of King Philip VI to Korea, which we have not been able to achieve. Organizing a visit of a Head of State to Korea is a complicated matter, since all conditions of stability in both countries must be met. At present, our bilateral relations are at a magnificent moment, and more than ever we share a large number of common interests. It can be said that our capacity to cooperate is at a high point. The visit of King Philip VI would undoubtedly strengthen our bilateral relations even further.
Have Spanish-Korean relations reached their peak or can still improve?
Today we are going through our best moment since we started our diplomatic relations in 1950. In the political arena, our relationship has experienced a major breakthrough as a result of encounters between political personalities of both countries. The most important of these meetings was the one maintained by HM the King Felipe VI and President Park at 2014 UN Assembly in New York, where cooperation in several sectors was further strengthened. Several ministerial meetings have also taken place, such as the recent meeting between our foreign ministers in March of last year.
In the economic sphere, we are also doing very well: bilateral trade during the past year has risen to 4,000 million euros , almost 50% more than five years ago. And in the social and cultural fields, we are getting more and more present. Often, companies and people are one step ahead of governments, and we must reorient our resources and priorities to meet the new demands of a reality that changes every day. What we must do is react quickly to strengthen and even accelerate our approach process. We have still work to do.
Which advice would you give your successor?
Since my arrival in Spain as Ambassador, I considered that a great way to advance our economic relations was to encourage cooperation between our infrastructure and construction companies to enter third markets to make the most of their respective comparative advantages. And I have done a great effort to set up a legal and institutional framework between our governments that would make this collaboration possible. I hope that my successor carry on to obtain substantial results on this basis.
You have said several times that fell in love with Spain in the first time you arrived as a student. What attracted you so much of a country so different from yours?
The way of life in Spain is more calm and relaxed. In my country, it is very common to hear the expression “fast, fast! We are always in a hurry. People say this is the phrase most heard by foreign tourists in Korea. We Koreans work quickly and agile but sometimes I think we live too hurried. On the other hand, Spaniards work in a more leisurely way. Even so, they do not delay at work and achieve good results. I think it would be a good idea for Koreans to learn from this aspect.
What has surprised you most travelling around Spain?
Spain is a great tourist destination. It is something that everyone knows. However, tourism is not its only strength. Spain is already at the top of the rankings in such strategic sectors as the automotive, construction, infrastructure or renewable energy. I have had the opportunity to visit most of its regions to give conferences and hold meetings, and I have always been pleasantly impressed by the great competitiveness of its industry.
How does your family bears the changes of destiny so usual for diplomats?
I have been assigned to Argentina, England, Brazil, Switzerland, US, Peru and Spain. In some of these countries even twice. So I have spent much of my life in foreign countries being a career diplomat. Like the families of other diplomats from all over the world, my wife and my children have suffered a lot. My wife says that her most frequent memory during the last few years is to pack and unpack. And children, naturally, have had difficulties adapting to new schools every few years. Despite all this, my family has always supported me and the truth is that I am very grateful to them.
Will you return to Spain?
Spain is my second homeland. Is also the birthplace of my second child and my last destination as a career diplomat. I would like to come back to Spain someday because this country means a lot to me, both professionally and personally.
What will you do from now on?
For me, time has come to retire as a career diplomat. The retirement age of the diplomatic corps in Korea is 60 years and I have already surpassed it during my time as Ambassador to Spain. Even so, I do not believe that my energy allows me to stay resting at home. When I return to Korea, I will devote myself to teaching international law and international relations at the university where I studied. It will be very important for me, since I will have the opportunity to train students who could be future diplomats.
I am not aware if telling jokes is usual in Korea, but you really have a knack for it. Is humour sometimes necessary for diplomats to relax tensions?
In general, Korean culture is serious, but this does not mean that Koreans do not enjoy humour. Precisely, the sense of humour is an indispensable resource for diplomats, who work in the first line of intercultural contact, because intelligent humour often serves as a lubricant that helps to reduce the frictions caused by the lack of mutual understanding.
Sometimes it is a complicated task. It is not easy to fully understand the jokes of other cultures, and in the same way it is difficult to make laugh someone with whom you have a great cultural difference because each joke contains the ideas, the way of being and the idiosyncrasy of each country.
I am very grateful to those people who enjoy my jokes. I have seen that my humour works here in Spain. It almost seems that I am Spanish!