The Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Korea in Russia and Professor of St Petersburg University Woo Yoon Keun delivered a public lecture to students of the University on the relations between the two countries.

In her welcoming speech to the distinguished guest, the Dean of the School of International Relations Irina Novikova mentioned the fact that Mr Woo Yoon-keun graduated from a Master programme at St Petersburg University in 2006.

The Ambassador shared his experience about his first visit to St Petersburg in December 1995. “At that time Russia was going through hard times. I had doubts about whether I would ever come back again. However, in 2003 I received a grant to study at the University and did my Master’s in international relations,’ he said. “It is an honour for me to be an alumnus of St Petersburg University and this place has become my second home. I am proud to be lecturing here today”.

Political dynamics on the Korean Peninsula and the development of Russian-Korean relations in this context are essential not only for this region, but for the whole world.
Andrei Kovsh, Associate Professor of St Petersburg University, Korean Studies expert

Russia wins the second place

At the start of his lecture Professor Woo Yoon-keun presented the results of a poll on the image of South Korea abroad. The most positive attitudes were demonstrated by Indonesia, where more than 96% of the population genuinely sympathise with Korea. Russia comes next with almost 95% of respondents commending the partner country. It is interesting to note that citizens of the countries that used to be key economic partners of Korea, such as Germany and China, showed a more modest appreciation – about 70%.

The Rector of St Petersburg University Nikolay Kropachev chairs the Russian Coordination Committee of the “Dialogue Russia – Republic of Korea” Forum.

The speaker also remembered that during the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, where the Russian select team had to compete under the neutral Olympic Flag. Many Koreans, including the President Moon Jae-in, had warmly greeted and supported the sportsmen from Russia.

A visa waiver has also contributed to the humanitarian exchange between our countries. Tourist traffic has increased almost threefold. “Korean people love St Petersburg. Last year, when Russia hosted the 2018 FIFA World Cup, many Korean citizens visited your country”, stressed Woo Yoon-keun. He also reminded the audience that national football teams of Russia and Korea achieved results which were a pleasant surprise to their fans.

“Miracle economy”

The Professor then gave a brief outline of the history of Korea, which goes back more than 4,000 years. The 20th century was very dramatic for this country: for over 35 years the country had no national autonomy. The Korean War began in 1950, leaving Korea split into sovereign countries. Nevertheless, in the following years South Korea demonstrated the “economic miracle” and now is the 12th largest economy in the world if measured by GDP, and the 6th largest exporter. It was not only the economic sphere that saw a rapid expansion. Important changes also took place in politics and in state governance.

“A small Asian country born from the ashes of conflict” managed to increase its GDP 380 times and its exports 10 000 times over 60 years.
Woo Yoon-keun, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Korea in Russia

Woo Yoon-keun mentioned rational fiscal and monetary policy, investment in human capital, and openness as the main reasons behind such rapid growth. Strategic focus and sustainable development were and remain essential factors of modernisation. The Korean government also invests in education. Korean students are among the most hard-working and industrious.

New era at the Korean Peninsula

Since taking office, President Moon Jae-in has set the new goal for South Korea of establishing peaceful relations with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and promoting denuclearisation on the peninsula. The Ambassador noted that the geopolitical situation in the region affects the interests of the USA, Russia, China and Japan.

The “New Northern Policy” of President Moon Jae-in is aimed, on the one hand, at ensuring peace with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and, on the other, with developing economic relations with northern partners, in particular with Russia. During the East Economic Forum, the President announced the programme “Nine Bridges” to develop cooperation with the Far East. This initiative includes a number of projects in the priority spheres as gas, railways, Northern Sea Route, shipbuilding, port infrastructure, fishing, agriculture, electric power, and employment. The development of the railway network is of particular interest for Russia and the Republic of Korea. Among other promising areas for cooperation the speaker mentioned healthcare and outer space.

Next year will mark the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between our countries. The Ambassador said that there will be a lot of events in the framework of celebration, including cultural ones. He shared the idea of organising a concert of the world famous K-pop band in Russia.

At the end of the meeting the audience had an opportunity to ask questions. Students and academic staff expressed their concerns about the role of St Petersburg in developing Russian–Korean relations, the impact of the economy on political decisions, prospects of resolving the “Korean question” in the Six-Party talks, and the promotion of the image of South Korea abroad.

Students asked the speaker to recommend some Korean films. Woo Yoon-keun noted that Korean cinematography is recognised and highly appreciated all over the world. Among his favourite filmmakers the Ambassador mentioned Park Chan-wook, Hong Sang-soo, and Bong Joon-ho.