THE INTERVIEW: Tendai Manzvanzvike
South Korea’s ninth Ambassador to Zimbabwe, His Excellency Mr Cho Jaichel was among five envoys who presented their credentials to President Mugabe on October 25, 2017. Herald Foreign Editor Tendai Manzvanzvike (TM) caught up with Ambassador Cho to find out more about Zimbabwe-Korea relations, and what they hold for the future, in terms of trade relations especially. In the interview, Ambassador Cho speaks on a wide range of issues, including his passion for Zimbabwean music, sculpture and sport.
TM: Your Excellency, you presented your credentials to President Mugabe on October 25. How long have you been in Zimbabwe, and what do you think about the country and its people? Have you managed to travel around the country, including visiting our tourist resorts?
Ambassador Cho: I was greatly privileged and honoured to have presented my credentials to the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe, HE Robert Gabriel Mugabe. I arrived in Harare in late April this year.
However, during the past six months, I have visited many beautiful places in this country and got to know more about the country.
I have already met many Zimbabwean friends, including singer Alick Macheso, Olympic gold medallist Kirsty Coventry and Shona stone sculptor Dominic Benhura. I look forward to building friendship with more Zimbabwean people.
When I went to Great Zimbabwe, I realised that the Zimbabwean people have a very long history and a flourishing civilisation.
In front of the magnificence of the Victoria Falls, I comprehended that the Zimbabwean people know the greatness of nature and how to live in harmony with it. From the always smiling faces of the Zimbabwean people I meet on the street, I was able to find the warm hearts and peace-loving tradition of the Zimbabwean people.
TM: When did diplomatic ties between Zimbabwe and South Korea start, and from the time the bilateral relations started, how do you think the relations have fared? Maybe you can also highlight some of the major economic, political, social or cultural activities between the two countries and how beneficial they have been to both countries.
Ambassador Cho: Diplomatic relations between the Republic of Korea and the Republic of Zimbabwe began on November 18 1994, and this year marks the 23rd anniversary of our diplomatic ties.
I think Korea and Zimbabwe have been maintaining cordial relations in various areas, including political, economic, cultural and people-to-people exchanges. I also think that our cooperation in the area of agriculture has shown very remarkable developments.
The Korean government established KOPIA (Korea Programme on International Agriculture) Centre within the Scientific and Industrial Research and Development Centre (SIRDC) campus in Harare last year, in an effort to strengthen the agricultural co-operation in a more systematic way.
The KOPIA Centre is now carrying out various projects such as production of disease-free potato seed, promotion of free-range roadrunners and much more. I believe these projects will create a strong momentum for Zimbabwe’s agricultural sector in increasing production and value-creation.
Last year, my embassy also donated US$100 000 worth of research equipment and farming materials to SIRDC to support the agricultural cooperation between our two countries. With our bilateral relations entering adulthood, I believe we can further develop our relations.
As the ninth Korean Ambassador to Zimbabwe, I personally feel a great responsibility in taking a step forward in our bilateral relations. In this sense, my embassy organised a “Korea Festival”, a serious cultural event that was held from September 25 to October 3 this year.
The festival included the Korean traditional musical and dance performances by Dasrum Ensemble and Artfield, Korean movie night.
I believe these cultural events have made a significant contribution to increasing the mutual understanding between our two peoples.
Turning to the economic sector, my embassy organised the “Korea-Zimbabwe Energy Investment Seminar”, to provide opportunity for companies from our two countries to meet each other, build up network and trust and discuss about cooperation in a mutually beneficial manner.
TM: The Korea Trade Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA), in conjunction with the Zimbabwe Investment Authority (ZIA), facilitated recently, a visit by a 10-member Korean business delegation to Zimbabwe, who are seeking investment opportunities. What is the possible interest of companies that came to scout for investing in Zimbabwe?
Ambassador Cho: The Korea-Zimbabwe Investment Seminar held on November 3 in Harare focused on mining, electricity and energy infrastructure sectors. These areas are where the Korean companies were interested in. The sectors are also inter-linked and serve as the backbone of any economy.
TM: Out of the seven companies, which ones have expressed definite interest to set up shop in Zimbabwe, not just supplying goods and services?
Ambassador Cho: This seminar was not intended for signing business contracts, but for creating network opportunities and platforms for advanced business discussions in the future.
I believe the seminar achieved its intended goal. The Korean companies came and saw the potential of the Zimbabwean economy. I think they will study more and consider from a business perspective.
TM: We also understand that trade has been declining between the two countries. What do you think are the reasons, and what should be done to boost trade between Zimbabwe and South Korea?
Ambassador Cho: Sadly, it is true that trade volumes between Korea and Zimbabwe have been on a down-ward path.
There may be lots of reasons, including the long distance between Korea and Zimbabwe, which result in high transportation costs.
In order to boost trade between our two countries, we need to find areas where the two countries can supplement each other’s economies.
I think that Korea’s high technology and Zimbabwe’s abundant natural resources can be a good example. At the same time, what is quintessential is that Zimbabwe improves its business environment by clearing institutional obstacles and socio-economic uncertainties.
According to the World Bank’s 2017 Ease of Doing Business survey, Korea ranked fourth among 190 countries while Zimbabwe ranked 159th. This means that Korean companies are used to very business-friendly environments, and there are many other alternative countries with better business environments than Zimbabwe.
I know that the Zimbabwean Government is making a lot of efforts to improve its business environment. I think this is the right direction.
TM: And, what has been the size of grant support from South Korea to Zimbabwe?
Ambassador Cho: The Republic of Korea has been providing a significant amount of assistance to Zimbabwe and my embassy is trying to do more for the Zimbabwean people.
After my arrival, my government donated $100 000 of humanitarian assistance through UNICEF for the Zimbabwean people affected by floods. I would also like to tell you about the stories of the Korean people helping Zimbabwean people.
Many Korean non-governmental organisation workers and missionaries are helping the Zimbabwean people. Some are teaching Zimbabwean children from poor families at the POSCO Development Centre, which was established with a donation of US$100 000 from a Korean charity organisation, Community Chest of Korea and operation with the funding from POSCO, Korea’s No. 1 steel company.
Others are drilling boreholes for marginalised and poor communities. One of the most memorable sites I have visited since my arrival is the village where one Korean NGO donated a borehole.
There was a panel (signage) saying “Water of Life.” I heard from the NGO worker that some Korean people are sending money to them for these borehole projects.
Some of them are sending the money that they have saved for their 60th birthday parties, while others are doing so at the price of their long-waited family travel. There are more untold stories of such gestures of assistance.
As you might know, Korea was poorer than Zimbabwe in the past. In 1960, Korea’s GDP per capita was a mere US$155, while Zimbabwe’s GDP per capita stood at US$280. So, Korean people know well about the daily hardships of poor people and have warm hearts to help them.
As Korean Ambassador, I am very proud of these Korean people and believe their warm hearts can be felt by the Zimbabwean people.
Even though the voluntary assistance by the Korean people is not included in the Official Development Assistance statistics, I believe their noble gestures are really valuable and laying a solid ground for stronger relations between our two countries.
TM: Your Excellency, let’s now turn to issues in your region. The Korean Peninsula continues to be in the news because of your northern neighbour North Korea and its nuclear missile tests. Do you think that the two Koreas will ever achieve unity, and live peacefully? And, how has this affected the region?
Ambassador Cho: I believe the two Koreas will be reunited in a peaceful manner. It is just a matter of time and there is no other option.
My President Moon Jae-in has clearly declared that the government of the Republic of Korea will neither pursue unification by absorbing the North nor seek artificial unification and that unification needs to be carried out in a peaceful and democratic manner.
President Moon also clarified that his government does not want North Korea to collapse. At the same time, he put forward a new roadmap for economic co-operation between the two Koreas and other neighbouring countries in the North East Asian region through which North Korea will naturally be able to realise that its peace can be guaranteed without a nuclear weapon.
The denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula is the essential prerequisite for peace and security of the peninsula and beyond. And the best way to achieve that denuclearisation is through dialogue.
However, while North Korea continues to conduct military provocations like nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches, we cannot expect meaningful dialogue. North Korea must stop military provocations and must come back to the negotiating table with a genuine intention of denuclearisation.
As the United Nations Security Council and the international community are increasing efforts to achieve denuclearisation on the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner, I hope that North Korea gives up its dangerous nuclear ambition and returns to the path for peace.
TM: Your Excellency, we also understand that you are a soccer fan. Do you like Zimbabwean soccer and how does it compare with Korean soccer?
Ambassador Cho: I am an enthusiastic soccer fan. And, there are no national boundaries for soccer fans. I have already visited the Zimbabwe National Soccer Stadium to watch the A-match soccer games between Zimbabwe and other countries.
I still remember the fanatical atmosphere that filled the entire stadium when the Warriors Captain (Knowledge) Musona scored three goals against Liberia in the 2019 African Cup of Nations qualifiers match.
I also know that Zimbabwe won the 2017 COSAFA Castle Cup, becoming the only country which lifted the champion trophy five times, while South Africa and Zambia lifted it four times each.
One of my dreams is to watch an A-match soccer game between Korea and Zimbabwe during my term as the Korean ambassador. For this, I am promoting the Zimbabwean national soccer team as the most powerful team in the Southern African region. I hope this dream comes true.
I think the Korean team will beat the Zimbabwean team with a 5-4 score line. I am sorry to my Zimbabwean friends, but I do not want the Korean team to lose against the Zimbabwean team.
TM: Your parting words to the people of Zimbabwe and Korea regarding our diplomatic relations and the future?
Ambassador Cho: As I mentioned earlier, there are many commonalities between Korea and Zimbabwe in terms of history, culture and people’s minds and hearts. I think these commonalities are very important assets in developing our bilateral relations.
I hope to see more and more cooperation and exchanges between our two countries. Active people-to-people exchanges are the most powerful driving forces in developing our bilateral relations.
Last year alone, more than 15 000 Koreans visited Zimbabwe. I think more than 20 000 Koreans are expected to visit Zimbabwe this year and the number would continue to grow in the future, and this should not be limited to high-level government delegations, but also students, scholars, civil society, businessmen, artists and tourists. I believe that this will be highly instrumental in further strengthening the Korea-Zimbabwe relations.
And, next year from February 2 to 25, Korea is hosting the 2018 Pyeong Chang Winter Olympic Games. I think this is a very good opportunity for Zimbabwean people to visit Korea.
I hope many Zimbabwean people can visit Korea during the Olympic season and experience the winter sports as well as very dynamic culture and highly advanced economy of Korea. Thank you very much.
TM: The pleasure is mine, Your Excellency.