By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
During a belated national day reception at his residence on Thursday, Oct. 11 (the country’s official holiday actually falls on Oct. 3), South Korean Ambassador to Mexico Kim Sang-il spoke about the strong economic and commercial bilateral ties and the historic links between the two countries.
“Since the founding of (modern-day) Korea, we have always counted on the support of the international community, and in particular, that of Mexico,” Kim told his guests at the start of the diplomatic event.
“Korea, today, is a democracy with a highly industrialized economy, but none of this would have been possible without the support of the global community.”
As a result of steady growth since the 1960s, South Korea is now the world’s seventh-largest exporter and 11th-largest economy, although in the 1950s it was an extremely impoverished, war-torn nation.
Kim expressed his gratitude to Mexico and other countries for standing beside Seoul in its most difficult hours and for endorsing the ongoing peace and denuclearization process throughout the Korean Peninsula.
Just five years after Korea’s liberation from Japanese colonialism at the end of World War II, the East Asian country was thrust into a brutal conflict between north and south that was a product of the Cold War between Soviet Union and the United States.
After three years of unprecedented violence that left nearly 10 percent of the peninsula’s population dead and over half of its infrastructure and homes demolished, a tentative stalemate truce was reached between the warring regions with the establishment of two sovereign states with diametrically opposed economic and political ideologies, both of which proclaimed sole legitimate claim of all Korea.
The Korean War was never officially ended, and over the last six and a half decades, border clashes frequently erupted.
In recent years, the despotic government of Pyongyang has used bellicose arm-twisting and scare tactics to try to intimidate Seoul, as North Korean has expanded its nuclear ambitions with overt threats to attack its southern neighbor.
Notwithstanding, in the last year, the two Koreas have engaged in a cautious diplomatic rapprochement, speared on by U.S. President Donald J. Trump, who in June met with the erratic North Korean leader Kim Jung-un in a high-stakes summit in Singapore.
The main objective of that summit and Seoul’s continued diplomatic overtures with Pyongyang has been to convince the unpredictable Kim Jung-un to abandon his nuclear ambitions.
Mexico has been very supportive of that disarmament initiative, and in September of last year, expelled Pyongyang’s ambassador in response to illicit nuclear tests.
Mexico and North Korea also had a serious diplomatic quarrel in 2014, after a ship belonging to the hermetic nation ran aground on a reef near the Mexican port of Tuxpan. That ship was subsequently linked to arms smuggling.
Ambassador Kim made no specific references to either of those incidences, but did say that South Korea would never forget how Mexico has supported his country “in both good times and bad.”
In economic and commercial terms, Mexico has been well compensated for its friendship with and support of South Korea.
“We now have 1,800 Korean companies in Mexico that have invested more than $6 billion in capital, generating more than 150,000 jobs,” Kim said.
“And the volume of our combined bilateral trade has reached more than $15 billion a year, a figure that represents 34 percent of Korea’s total commercial exchange with Latin America.”
In order to broaden two-way trade ties even further, Kim said that South Korea is hoping to become an associate member of the Pacific Alliance (a regional trade pact between Mexico, Chile, Colombia and Peru established in 2012 to encourage commercial integration and economic development) in early 2019, when an existing free-trade accord between Korea and Mexico will come up for review and renegotiations.
“But the relationship between Korea and Mexico cannot be defined just in economic terms,” the ambassador said.
“The close integration between our countries can be best understood through the vast friendship and deep binational cooperation that exists in virtually every field.”
Kim pointed to examples such as the Permanent Symposium of Korean Studies organized by the prestigious Colegio de México and Mexican Senate and the recent recording of a promotional music video by a Korean group in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca.
The envoy also spoke about the historic links between Mexico and Korea, recalling that the first Korean immigrants arrived in the Yucatan Peninsula in 1905, where they began to develop small businesses and cottage industries.
“Today, there are more than 30,000 Korean descendants in Mexico, and 12,000 Korean nationals,” he said.
South Korea’s national day marks the country’s mythical founding in the year 2333 BC, when Dan-gun Wanggeom, son of the heavens and a woman from the bear tribe, allegedly established the first Korean kingdom of Gojoseon.