Sweden-Republic of Korea: 50 Years of Diplomatic Relations

This year Sweden and the Republic of Korea celebrate 50 years of friendly and mutually beneficial diplomatic relations. Our two nations are in a dynamic phase of deepened and broadened interaction in many different areas. Sweden and South Korea are two advanced countries and democracies, both members of the OECD and both important nations within the United Nations (UN), but with different historical backgrounds. Sweden and South Korea are two of the very few countries that have had the privilege of seeing a top diplomat appointed as Secretary General of the UN.

Sweden strives to be of service to the international community, using its experience as a country that has managed to stay out of wars for almost two centuries. Sweden is a member of the European Union and participates in various European cooperation projects.

The Republic of Korea is an important actor in the international community, both economically and politically, but has suffered the unfortunate fate of a brutal occupation and several wars during the last two centuries. Korea is still the victim of a sad separation of its nation. The very impressive development of the Republic of Korea is nothing short of remarkable. High economic growth has been combined with democracy, which makes Korea a role model for development of other countries in the world.

After the outbreak of the Korean war in 1950 Sweden supported the UN resolution to send military personnel to South Korea and got actively involved by dispatching a military Red Cross field hospital with Swedish personnel. Over one thousand Swedish relief members took part in the hospital service in Busan during the war, taking care of over two million  patients. After the Korean war there was a great need for medical service and training of Korean medical personnel. The Swedish Field Hospital became the Swedish Hospital in Busan after 1953, and the Swedish medical team stayed until 1957, when it was transformed into the National Medical Center – the Scandinavian Hospital – in Seoul. The hospital in Seoul was opened in 1958, one year before the diplomatic relations between Sweden and the Republic of Korea were established.

Since the end of the Korean War in 1953 Sweden has had a delegation in the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (NNSC) and numerous Swedish officers have served in Panmunjom ever since the armistice agreement was signed.

South Korea and Sweden have taken care of the opportunity to develop mutual supportive cooperation in many ways as South Korea’s economy has grown and become one of the largest economies in the world. Foreign trade has played a key role in both Sweden’s and South Korea’s modernization. Swedish and Korean companies, large as well as smaller ones, consider the global market as the natural environment to succeed. Significant exchanges have taken place between our two countries regarding issues of development.

Our industries are cooperating in creative and positive ways. There are more than seventy Swedish companies in the Republic of Korea and all the big Korean brands are familiar to Swedes. Korea is Sweden's third trading partner in Asia - after China and Japan and the fourth export market after Japan, China and India. There is always scope for increased trade flows between our countries, and the EU- Korea Free Trade Agreement under negotiation will open further opportunities in the future.

The ideas of inventors and innovations have laid the foundation for industries and corporations, which have played an important role for Sweden’s and South Korea’s road to prosperity. Alfred Nobel, founder of the Nobel Prize, was one of Sweden's greatest inventors and industrialists. The Nobel Prize has been awarded since 1901 for outstanding achievements, and President Kim Dae-jung received the Nobel Peace Prize in year 2000. Research co-operation between Sweden and Korea is growing. But it is still at a modest level by international comparison. There is room to increase exchange of researchers and students in the coming years.

Sweden and Korea have both benefitted from the globalization, as their prosperity is built on international trade and the ability of its companies to compete in global markets. Sweden promotes free trade, open to both export and  import, to the benefit of consumers and companies globally. Korean Industrial groups - like Samsung, Hyundai, LG, Daewoo - operate globally and have established a strong position in Europe. Globalization can only be met by enhanced competitiveness at home, and openness to others, not by isolation and inward looking protectionism. An ambitious result in the WTO Doha Development Round is a Swedish priority.

The  ongoing negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement between the EU and Korea is also of great importance, by focusing on areas currently outside the WTO such as investment rules, trade in services and the removal of non-tariff barriers. The agreement is comprehensive and ambitious in coverage, aiming at the highest possible degree of trade liberalization. A successful result will give significant economic benefits for both Sweden and South Korea. Export in services from the EU is expected to increase 50% by this agreement. For Korea the agreement will also have a major impact and estimations expects the exports to the EU to rise significantly.

So, after 50 years of  Swedish and South Korean diplomatic relations our countries are closely tied together by historic events and close cooperation in many different areas.

Statement from the Swedish Ambassador on March 11, 2009