Government Policy

Korea seeks deeper engagement with Bangladesh with focus on young generation

South Korean Ambassador to Bangladesh Lee Jang-keun has said his country wants to take the “strong relations” with Bangladesh to a new height engaging deeply in every potential area giving much focus on the young generation in terms of cooperation and collaboration.

“The Golden Jubilee of diplomatic relations in 2023 would be a significant momentum for the two countries to take the strong ties to a new height,” he said, mentioning that the two countries now need to diversify the areas of cooperation.

He was delivering the keynote address at a webinar hosted by the Cosmos Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Cosmos Group, at its Ambassadors’ Lecture Series Dialogue premiered on Thursday.

The topic for discussion was “Bangladesh-South Korea Relations: Prognosis for the Future.”

Enayetullah Khan, Chairman of the Cosmos Foundation, earlier made the inaugural remarks.

Dr Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury, a Singapore-based renowned scholar-diplomat and former Foreign Affairs Advisor of Bangladesh Caretaker Government chaired and conducted the session.

Ambassador Lee, stated that he keeps three key words — elevation, diversification and generation — in his mind always, and said Bangladesh is a young country with the majority of its young people that deserves attention.

He said they have to focus on the young people in their collaboration as the young generation owns the future of this country.

Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya of the Centre for Policy Dialogue, Chairman and CEO of Youngone Corporation and KEPZ Corporation (BD) Ltd Kihak Sung, former BGMEA President and Mohammadi Group Chairperson Dr Rubana Huq, former Bangladesh Ambassador to South Korea Iftikharul Karim; and Research Fellow and Head at Bangladesh Centre for Terrorism Research (BCTR) Shafqat Munir comprised the panel of discussants.

Enayetullah Khan echoed the Ambassador on what he says Bangladesh-Korea relationship “looks bright and will grow even brighter.”

“I hope our relationship will grow deeper and wider and I would say we’ll enjoy a strategic partnership of relations between Bangladesh and Korea,” he said.

One of the cornerstones of the Bangladesh-Korea relationship has been the Youngone Corporation, probably the most important foreign company success story in Bangladesh in the last four decades, Khan said, adding, “They’re the largest foreign investors in Bangladesh’s RMG sector.”

Appreciating the diversified role of Kihak Sung, Khan said the Youngone Chairman has not only created a world-class export processing zone in Chattogram but also has turned it into a place of nature conservation and biodiversity. “Kihak Sung has worked very silently to promote Bangladesh-Korea ties.”

He said the bilateral trade volume between Bangladesh and South Korea is almost close to US $1.6 and hoped that it will become US$ 2 billion soon.

Dr Iftekhar Chowdhury said Korea has been the lead bird in the Asian region in what in development economics is known as the “flying geese paradigm”, and the Korean model is supremely worthy of emulation by others.

He said Korea’s global role has been concomitant with its economic rise and one example was the leadership at the United Nations provided by former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon what he has personally witnessed.

Dr Iftekhar said bilateral relations between Bangladesh and Korea have grown by leaps and bounds and have been mutually most rewarding.

He stated that the relations have the potential to be even more robust, adding, “Our ties are a good example of how shared values can effectively drive positive collaboration between two nations.”

He recalled how the skilled labour market opened up in Korea which is different from the kind of market Bangladesh sees in the Middle East.

Dr Iftekhar hoped this is something that they focus on as the two countries can benefit enormously from this.

He appreciated the enormous contributions of Kihak Sung to the Bangladesh economy and said, “I would like to state unequivocally that he’s a true friend of Bangladesh.”

Dr Debapriya said it is a matter of great anguish for him as an economist to see that Bangladesh could not really take the full advantage of the South Korean market even after duty- and quota-free market access and diversify its products beyond the garments and leather.

Talking about Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), he said Korean investment is also diversifying into non-garment areas, IT, technological upgradation and all other issues which he termed very fantastic. “I hope the FDI process will further take its momentum.”

Coming on the remittances, the economist said Korea has been one of the incremental sources of remittances beyond Bangladesh’s traditional sources — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and others. “We’ll need much more skilled people to be working there and we need to prepare for the new markets,” he said.

If Korea continues DFQF market access beyond 2026, Dr Debapriya said, it would be a great gesture on the part of the Korean government to strengthen the partnership with Bangladesh.

But at the same time, he said, there may be much more selective and supportive international support measures for the diversification agenda which Ambassador Lee has rightly mentioned that they link it up with LDC strategy.

The economist mentioned that geopolitically Bangladesh has become such an attractive attention globally. “We quite often don’t appreciate in this modern globalized world the relationship that happens here is not necessarily what happens here. It happens as a result of many other things which happen elsewhere in the world,” he said.

Inspired by his love of nature and outdoor pursuits, Sung founded Youngone Corporation in 1974 and started their operations in Bangladesh 40 years ago. “There’re lots of joys and lots of struggles if we look back in the past decades,” he said.

Sung hopes the textile zone at the Korean EPZ in Chattogram will become a “textile hub” in Bangladesh bringing a lot of businesses.

Bangladesh needs to make a lot of efforts to produce and supply more manmade fibre (MMF) so that such a supply chain is established successfully here.

Sung expressed optimism over an increased export from Bangladesh to Korea and other countries.

“I think going forward, Bangladesh needs to make a lot of efforts to make FTAs (Free Trade Agreements) with many countries so that these low hanging fruits of textile and clothing business can be harvested properly,” he said.

Before seeking to pluck new fruits, Sung said, there is more need to reap the existing low lying fruits further. “We need to do that. But we need to harvest textile and clothing business as much as possible going forward,” he added.

Sung made a presentation on what the Youngone Corporation is doing apart from highlighting the new initiatives at Korean Export Processing Zone (KEPZ). Korea Export Processing Zone (KEPZ) has recently inaugurated a 100-acre Hi-tech Park within KEPZ.

Dr Rubana Huq said Bangladesh supplies $323 million of garments to Korea whereas Korea buys $9 billion from other countries.

She said there is a mismatch between what they supply and what Korea buys. “We need to crack your better market and we need your support in value-added products. We’re doing better with Korea and we would just like to do more.”

Dr Rubana said light engineering is one thing that they all like to go into because only dependence on the RMG sector has to end. “We’ve to do that, and we need Korea’s support as well in this regard.”

She emphasized the need for a “virtual market”, adding that the online market is expected to go up to $872 billion by 2023 and Bangladesh should not miss this opportunity.

If Korea can extend a helping hand, especially while Korea concentrates on elevation, generation and of course diversification, Rubana said, adding: “I think your (Ambassador) expectations will soon be translated into reality if we’re all in it together.”

Former Ambassador Iftikharul Karim said he believes, first and foremost, political relations must be nurtured and strengthened through regular, periodic bilateral dialogue at the highest levels emphasizing sovereignty, mutual respect and cooperation at the bilateral, international as well as regional level.

Secondly, the former diplomat said, economic, trade and commercial relations need to be given priority while taking into account the fragility of Bangladesh economy and its needs. “Focusing on small and medium industrial enterprises could be a priority consideration and should be promoted and protected as Bangladesh economy shifts to industrialization,” he said.

Iftikharul Karim said diversification of the Bangladesh economy to engage in new sectors such as the ICT industry, where South Korea is already a giant, could become the engine of economic cooperation between the two countries.

Thirdly, he said, there has to be conscious and deliberate policies to promote and strengthen interaction between trade bodies and entrepreneurs for mutual confidence building and seamless sharing of information.

The future trajectory of Bangladesh-Korea relations has immense potential and if the political leadership sees fit they can together take this already established friendship to an entirely different and higher plane that will make the past 50 years, impressive as it is, look like a pale shadow.

Shafqat Munir shifted the focus on security cooperation, greater cooperation on strategic and geopolitical issues; and more specifically on defence cooperation that the two countries could potentially do in terms of innovating and diversifying the relationship.

He endorsed the statement by Dr Debapriya that the bilateral relations are no longer confined to what happens between the two capitals and it is essentially also a reflection of what happens in the region and what happens in the wider geopolitical space.

“In this context, I don’t see a lot happening between Dhaka and Seoul at the moment – but there’s a serious opportunity for us to do more,” said the analyst, noting that Korea is a significant geopolitical player in the international scene.

He appreciated Korea’s continued support for resolving the Rohingya refugee crisis. “We really appreciate the support that you have provided us but as the crisis has now entered almost into its fifth year, we’ll continue to seek your support in the international arena and bring the situation to a peaceful resolution.”

Ambassador Lee, who had made a detailed presentation with historical references, concluded saying they need to move beyond RMG and diversify collaboration between the two countries as so far RMG occupies the largest portion of collaboration.

Dr Iftekhar Chowdhury, the chair of the discussion, in his concluding remarks underscored that while bilateral relations between Bangladesh and South Korea are excellent, there is also ample room and scope for much greater cooperation.

As Bangladesh graduates out the LDC status, he said, it will need to upgrade and widen its export market and Korean support and technology transfer would be most useful.

Source: United News of Bangladesh