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Martin UdenAmbassador to the Republic of Korea, Seoul
Enough words have already been written about the G20 Summit itself and its outcomes that I don’t feel the need to add any more. But as Ambassador here, it was obviously my concern to be sure that the Prime Minister saw something of Korea beyond the COEX conference rooms and the Grand Intercontinental hotel.
I’m happy to say that he was as determined as I was for him to see as much as he could of Korea.
- On the very first morning we took him up to Gloster Valley on the Imjin River. Since we were able to do that by helicopter, it gave him a great view over Seoul and north of the city almost up to the DMZ.
- Also on his first full day here, he joined his Australian and Canadian counterparts (and the French Finance Minister) to mark the 11 o’clock silence on 11 November at the Korean War Memorial.
- He made another early start on the Friday to join the Spanish Prime Minister for jogging. (I admit it: he didn’t have his Ambassador with him for that.)
- Then he visited Bongeunsa, a Buddhist temple and had tea with the Chief Abbot, probably a good calming experience before the G20 Summit itself.
- And finally, he and the Chancellor walked the length of Insa-dong, enjoying a tourist experience in a lovely street that mixes traditional Korean antique shops, souvenir shops and small restaurants and tea-rooms. Quite a surprise for the tourists there!
All of this he managed to fit in without sacrificing any of the time needed at the G20 conference venue, but it gave him a good picture of modern Korea, with its mix of an increasingly attractive tourist destination and a high-tech centre and also a country that treasures its history, be it the Korean War or its religious and architectural heritage.
Following my time at the Leadership Conference and then two days of briefings for UK business about opportunities in Korea, I spent two days this week at the UK/Korea Forum for the Future, held in London. This was its 18th annual meeting, and as is customary a good selection of participants from both countries held very useful discussions on a whole range of issues of concern to both countries - issues like the world economic crisis, the role of the G20, the current state of North/South Korean relations and of coalition politics in the UK, as well as interesting accounts of various UK/Korean initiatives underway. Since the discussions were held under Chatham House rules, I can't say much about the content, but they were always frank and informative. Of particular interest was the opportunity to hear from the Foreign Secretary and from Jeremy Browne, the FCO Minister for Asia, about their views on the government's foreign policy intentions and of course UK domestic politics.
We were also lucky to have the opportunity to see the recently opened exhibition of contemporary Korean art - "Korean Eye" at the Saatchi Gallery. It was particularly good to hear that for the duration of the 2012 Olympic Games the whole of the Gallery will be taken up with Korean art. But the current exhibition is a great trailer for the main event in two years' time.
The morning I was going down to Busan, I looked at Twitter to see what the world was talking about and noticed that Sung Young-gil (http://twitter.com/Bulloger) said he was going to the grave of President Roh Moo-hyun following his (Sung’s) victory in the local elections to become Mayor of Incheon. And then I saw Sung (whom I met few times while he was a Member of the National Assembly) on the plane and was able to offer my congratulations.
So I flew down to Busan with Mervyn King, the Governor of the Bank of England and later accompanied George Osborne, the new Chancellor of the Exchequer from Busan airport. With both, I discussed the prospects for the G20 meeting this weekend and through the rest of the year, as well as its relevance to Korea. The meeting in Busan of Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors was preparing for the G20 Summit in Toronto, and although in some ways and in some countries the economic recovery is going better than feared, there’s clearly a long way to go until the global economy is firmly back on track and safe from further crises.
There was some important progress made on a range of issues, and something of a shift in tone on the need for countries to tackle their deficits, as well as expand domestic growth, in order to make the recovery sustainable. But as is always the case, Finance Ministers weren't able to reach agreement on everything, and some issues, like the idea of a bank levy, will have to wait for another day. So there will still be plenty left to discuss when leaders meet in Toronto later this month and for when Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors come to Kyeongju in October for their final G20 meeting before the Seoul Summit.
This week is pretty busy with G20 business. Last week the Korean government announced a new set-up for its handling of the Chairmanship of the G20 process, and its hosting of the G20 Summit next November. Coincidentally, this week sees a couple of important multilateral meetings in Seoul at official level to review where things now stand in the international efforts to achieve balanced economic growth and develop new international mechanisms to deal with financial issues. There's a good team out from the Treasury in London, and I'm using that opportunity to meet the Korean officials involved in the new Korean set-up.
One other change in Korean officialdom is the announcement last week of the move of Ambassador Chun, the Korean Ambassador in London, back to Seoul to become Vice-Minister in the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It must be quite an upheaval for him to leave London after less than 18 months, but it's an important promotion and I'm delighted that I'll be able to work with him back here in Seoul.
I have missed writing my blog, having been away on leave and on business and then just recently catching up with what I'd missed and then preparing for a visit by Lord Mandelson. He was in Korea on 6-8 October in his capacity as the UK Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills. I've been hoping to secure a visit from one of the Ministers in his department ever since I arrived, because the work that the UK Trade and Investment part of the Embassy does here is tremendously important and it can get a great boost from a well-timed and well-prepared visit. Of course we did have a visit by the Duke of York in October last year, but politicians can do some things that members of the Royal Family can't do, and vice versa.
[Photos show, from clockwise top right: Lord Mandelson meets Korea's President Lee Myung-bak; breakfast meeting with Korean business leaders; meeting Korea's Minister of Knowledge Economy, Choi Kyung-hwan; and delivering a keynote speech to the British Chamber of Commerce Korea and the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry]
For Lord Mandelson, the two major themes were the EU/Korea Free Trade Agreement and work on G20 issues. When Lord Mandelson was the EU Trade Commissioner he kicked off the negotiations for the Agreement here in Seoul, and now it is due to be initialed on 15 October, signifying that the negotiations have reached the point where both sides are happy with the text. But of course agreeing texts is one thing; making sure that they achieve the desired goal of encouraging and facilitating trade and investment between the EU and Korea is another. For that we need to be sure that EU and Korean businesses can see the opportunities and act on them. This is the message Lord Mandelson was sending, and is one we need to keep repeating to be sure UK business knows of the greater opportunities that will be available. We estimate that the FTA will generate up to 13 billion Euros(￡ 11.82 billion) for Korean companies, and generate exporting opportunities for EU goods and services of up to 19 billion Euros (￡17.27 billion).
The G20 continues to offer a great chance for the UK and Korea to work together to help forge what the G20 Leaders at the Pittsburgh Summit described as "the premier forum for our international economic cooperation". Now it is agreed that not only will Korea take over from us as G20 Chair, but it will also host a Summit here in November 2010. Korea will have a major role in the early days of this new forum, and if the UK can help in any way, I'm sure we will. Not only will we see ministerial interactions like Lord Mandelson's, but President Lee has also accepted Gordon Brown's offer to have one of his closest advisers, Baroness Shriti Vadera, to act as a adviser for Korea in helping the transition from one Presidency to the next.