Korea and the Philippines are old friends – 71 years of friendship
DIPLOMATIC POUCH - Han Dong-Man (The Philippine Star) - March 5, 2020 - 12:00am

This Tuesday, March 3rd, marked the 71st anniversary of the estab-lishment of diplomatic ties between the Republic of Korea and the Philippines. This bond has deepened and blossomed into one of mutual respect and cooperation – a friendship that was sealed when 7,420 members of the Philippine Expeditionary Forces to Korea fought to preserve Korea’s democracy and sovereignty when the Korean War broke out in the Korean Peninsula 70 years ago.

In this long and precious friendship, both countries have witnessed significant progress in the socio-political stage, in trade and investment, in development cooperation, and in cultural and people-to-people exchanges. In 2019, Korea was the fifth largest trading partner of the Philippines. Korea is also the third highest import source and sixth highest export destination of the Philippines. The Korean government is often one of the first countries to provide humanitarian aid through the Philippine Red Cross for those affected by various natural disasters such as the Mayon Volcano eruption, Typhoon Mangkhut, Mindanao earthquake, and most recently the Taal Volcano eruption. In addition, last year, both countries also embarked on bilateral FTA negotiations, which, once completed this year, will further deepen bilateral economic partnerships.

In celebration of the 70th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Korea and the Philippines last year, the Korean Embassy organized various cultural, educational and economic events in cooperation with Philippine government agencies, companies, and private citizens of both countries. Of note among these activities is the official launch of the Philippines-Korea Society on November 7, 2019. I firmly believe that this Society will play a role to stimulate and coordinate Korea-related activities in the Philippines, spread knowledge and information about Korea to the public, and promote people-to-people exchanges between the two countries.

In terms of people-to-people exchanges, Korean tourists to the Philippines increased to 1,989,322 million in 2019, accounting for 24.08% of total tourists for the year. Since 2010, Korea has remained the top tourist source for the Philippines. On the other hand, there were 516,503 Philippine tourists to Korea in 2019, higher by 10.3% from 2018. In addition, thousands of Filipino workers are deployed to Korea each year under Korea’s Employment Permit System (EPS) to take advantage of the opportunity to be trained and employed by many Korean companies.

While recent concerns over the spread of COVID-19 around the world have prompted partial travel restrictions in the Philippines for visitors from Korea’s Gyeongbuk region, the Korean government is making all-out efforts to address the current challenge. The international experts, including WHO (World Health Organization), have expressed confidence in Korea’s vast experience and expertise in health security. The Korean government is fully mobilizing all the resources to tackle the current challenge. I hope people-to-people exchanges between the two countries will not be damaged by any additional restrictive measures.

Through the three summit meetings of President Moon Jae-in and President Rodrigo Duterte during their administrations, they have made a promise to further strengthen cooperation on multiple fields. At their last bilateral meeting held during the 2019 ASEAN-ROK Commemorative Summit, President Duterte remarked that “solidarity and mutual aid have been the hallmark of our ties since 1950. It touches us that this remains so. Clearly, at no other time in our shared history have bonds between our peoples been this strong.”

In particular, President Moon suggested to President Duterte that now is the time for the two countries to elevate their relationship to a strategic partnership. President Moon also mentioned that “Philippines is the future of ASEAN as it continues to grow under President Duterte’s leadership.” 

The two leaders’ statements show their willingness to attain the highest level of partnership between Korea and the Philippines. And to realize Philippine economic development, I, as the Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to the Philippines, fully support its potential and vision. I believe that when we, Korea and the Philippines, walk together, the journey toward prosperity and peace will be much more pleasant.

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(HAN Dong-man is the Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to the Philippines)

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