Interview with H.E. Mr. Kap-soo RIM
Ambassador of the Republic of Korea
Vasile SIMILEANU: We live in an ever-changing world. Attemps to build a new world have different approaches. In this sense, geopolitics plays an important role in establishing new strategies.
From your state’s official point of view, what are these new geopolitical challenges and pressures?
H.E. Kap-soo RIM: For sure, we are ushering in a water-shed moment, ‘zeitanwende’ after the end of the cold war era.
After the cold war, the world had been struck with newly found optimism and idealism with accelerating globalization and such books as ‘the end of history’ and ‘the world is flat’, etc, were sold off the shelves. The geo-politics and realpolitik were consigned to the past.
Russia’s invasion against Ukraine called the geo-politics back into relevance, and real-politik and geo-politics resurrected from the ashes of history. This is a ‘return of geo-politics’ moment.
Russia’s war upended the international security, interna-tional law and even our common sense which was incubated from the early 1990s. In addition, the pandemic, climate change, supply chain disruptions also have impacted our daily lives in an unprecedented manner.
For us, the people of the Republic of Korea, we never enjoyed the end-of cold war moment, neither the peace-dividend. We have never been complacent and have been on constant alert as we have been confronting existential threats from ana-chronistic and surreal North Korean dictatorial regime ever since the end of the Korean War in 1953.
Even at this moment, North Korea’s continued provocation, its nuclear and missile programs remain a direct threat more than any time. Last year and this year North Korea launched more than 100 ballistic missiles, including ICBMs, which was banned by UN Security Council resolutions.
Russian’s war against Ukraine has forced global governance in retreat as well. For example, the UN Security Council has been stuck in the mire. Even though North Korea has continued to defy UNSC resolutions by indulging prohibited military pro-vocation, Security Council has remained moribund without producing any counter-measures due to oppositions from Russia and China.
Further worrying development is the marriage-of–convenience coalition between North Korea and Russia in the unjust war against Ukraine. North Korea is recently suspected of providing arms to Russia. This is a real threat not only in the region, but also in the entire world.
V.S.: Each state promotes its security strategies in the light of international developments.
What are your state’s orientations in the international arena?
H.E. Kap-soo RIM: In a situation where everything is murky and unclear, there are two most important elements in order to navigate these troubled moments, and I always emphasize these two elements when I meet with Romanian senior officials and politicians.
The first is the need to follow a ‘guiding star’. In the past, when sailors lost their way in steering their ships, they always followed the guiding star.
I believe that today’s guiding star is the fundamental values, such as freedom, democracy, human rights and rule of law. Those fundamental values should guide us in navigating this tumultuous moment.
The second thing is ‘friend’. We have to forge a coalition with friends, partners and allies who share the same guiding star.
When I served as political counselor at the Korea’s mission to the United Nations, I had the privilege of meeting with Dr. Henry Kissinger, who turns 100 this year. I requested him to give me just one piece of axiom to be kept during my entire diplomatic service. His advice to me was “when you don’t know what to do, just support your friend”.
The President of the Republic of Korea has put forward “alliance of values” and “alliance in action” in his recent addresses to the NATO Summit in July and to the UN General Assembly in September. These two sentences are the keys to chart a new way away from today’s troubled moments.
My Government is pursuing a “Global Pivotal State (GPS)” in forming “alliance of values” and “alliance in action”. Korea is expanding its role for global security, as ally of the United States, as strategic partner of the European Union and as Global partner of the NATO.
Korea’s multi-layered security structure with bilateral alliance with the US, with regional partnership with Japan, Australia and New Zealand, with cross-continent partnership with EU, and global partnership with the NATO will make a sizable contribution to the international security.
V.S.: Geopolitics has, in the current international context, a high weight in the generation of politico-military and economic security strategies. Please comment on the main political-military, economic, social, cultural orientations for the promotion of national interests!
H.E. Kap-soo RIM: I would like to emphasize three points.
First, we are all connected. At NATO Summit in Vilnius in July, my President stressed that the security in Europe and in Asia is inseparable. In today’s world, an insecurity does not respect the border. Europe’s security is directly linked to Asia’s security.
Second, the security element is taking priority over trade and investment. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, COVID-19 pandemic and US – China strategic rivalry have con-tributed to putting security before economics. The US’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and the EU’s equivalent Act on Critical Raw Materials (CRMA) are good examples. Security-first economic statecraft has eclipsed the upbeat expectation of globalization-led world peace of 1990s and 2000s.
Third, many political analysts talk about fragmentation of the international politics and the rise of new Global South. A tell-tail example is the voting results of the ‘Peace Resolution’ at the UN General Assembly in February this year. The resolution con-demned Russia’s aggression and urged Russia to immediately withdraw its forces from Ukraine. Seven countries including Russia, North Korea and Syria opposed the resolution. Thirty-two countries including China, India and Iran abstained.
Economic statecraft will be reconfigured as well. Place and region are getting more and more important than just labor cost and cost-benefit calculus. This is why a new word ‘friend-shoring’ is coined. Capitals and manufacturing investments will be re-located to those countries that are geo-politically allies and partners.
Then what should we do under these new environments? Again, I would like to refer to my previous points of ‘the same guiding star’ and ‘alliance of values.’ Grounded in the core values of freedom, human rights and the rule of law, a strong partnership among partners and friends will help build a world that is more secure, more peaceful and more prosperous.
V.S.: Regarding relations with other states, how do you assess the strategies developed in relations with Romania, the USA, the EU, Russia and China?
H.E. Kap-soo RIM: As the Korean Ambassador to Romania, I would like to focus on the relationship between Korea and Romania in terms of security cooperation. When it comes to security cooperation, Korea and Romania shares three key things.
First, we share the same guiding star, fundamental values.
Second, we share the same security environment. When you look at the map, you will instantly notice that Republic of Korea is situated at the northern tip of the free world in Northeast Asia, while Romania stands at the eastern flank of the free world in this region. Both Seoul and Bucharest are the front bases of the free world.
Third, we share the same alliance and partners. As I mentioned earlier, Korea is the ally of the United States, a strategic partner of the European Union and the global partner of the NATO. Needless to say, Korea and Romania have been strategic partners since 2008.
Given these, Korea and Romania are best suited to further expand current coo-peration into security and defense area. In particular, Korea is ready to cooperate with Romania in the defense industry and is now actively pursuing this.
After the Cold War, European countries have significantly reduced their defense budgets, while Republic of Korea has never reduced its defense budget since the Korean War. In average, roughly 2.7% of GDP is spent for national defense annually, which amounts to 56 billion USD this year.
We possess the world’s top-notch defense technology, and our weapons are fully compatible with NATO’s weapons system. As Romania will increase its defense budget up to 3% of its GDP in the near future, Korea is one of the best partners in Romania’s upgrading of its defense capability.
On Russia, we are fully aligned with the US, EU and NATO in condemning its in-vasion against Ukraine and has been implementing sanctions against Russia and Belarus.
We have been extending support to Ukraine. In line with our commitment to the ‘Ukraine Peace and Solidarity Initiative’, the Korean government will implement a comprehensive support program that encompasses security, humanitarian assistance, and reconstruction by providing 300 million dollars next year, and a mid- to long-term support package exceeding two billion dollars.
China is our neighboring country, with bi-lateral trade volume over 300 billion USD. We know, more than any other countries, the implication of more assertive China in the world politics.
Personally, I think that EU’s ‘de-risking’ or US’s ‘high fence-small yard’ approach is more realistic and practical rather than total ‘de-coupling’.
There are rooms for China to play constructive roles in the areas of global challenge such as combating climate change and nuclear non-proliferation. The Government of the Republic of Korea has engaged with China and urged China to play a constructive role in curbing North Korea’s nuclear and missile program and in faithfully implementing UNSC sanctions against North Korea.
V.S.: In terms of trade strategies, how do you assess the strategies developed by your country?
What national interests are promoted in relations with third countries?
H.E. Kap-soo RIM: Republic of Korea emerged from the ashes of the Korean war, achieving unprecedented success story of rapid economic development and full-fledged democracy in less than two generations’time.
Behind this meteoric rise of Korea into global stage are several factors. The most important factors were massive investments into education and efficient bureaucracy.
Republic of Korea is the world’s 10th largest economy and ranked 6th in trade volume. Korea ranked first in the Bloomberg’s innovation index 2022 and ranked second in terms of R&D investment. We have cutting-edge technology in ICT, energy, infrastructure and defense industry.
As explained above, the Korean government is playing an active role to be ‘Global Pivotal State’. We will actively be engaged with the world, forming alliance of values and providing necessary assistance to the needy countries.
On the relations with Romania, my priority is bringing up the economic cooperation to the level in line with our Strategic Partnership. The leadership of Korea and Romania has put forward a clear roadmap in the economic area during their recent meetings in Seoul and Bucharest. I am fully mandated to follow up through with this roadmap in the energy, defense, infrastructure and ICT areas.
V.S.: In numerous publications and activities, we have promoted new geopolitical approa-ches such as GeoIntelligence, the geopolitics of artificial intelligence, as well as approaches to the role of cultural and religious minorities in securing regional, and even global stability.
How are these approaches perceived in your country?
H.E. Kap-soo RIM: Quite important points made.
In ordinary jargon, geo-politics meant rivalry between states resorting to coercive means including warfare. As we are confronting direct threats from North Korea, we have been paying a great deal of attention to the geo-political dynamics surrounding the Korean peninsula.
The geo-politics of the 21st century mean more than this and is closer to ‘tech-politic.’ Securing competitiveness in space technology, semiconductors, electric bat-teries and artificial intelligence has emerged as new battlefield. It is no exaggeration to say that now is an era in which alliances are not formed based on geographical location, but alliances are formed among countries that possess technology, equipment, materials and patents needed for the alliance.
Republic of Korea is no exception in this scramble to secure ‘foundational technologies’. The Republic of Korea is the largest producer of semiconductors, and No. 2 in producing electric batteries. Recently, Korea has become the 7th country in the world that manufactured Space Launch Vehicle (SLV) capable of placing more than one ton of satellites into orbit.
With securing ‘foundational technologies,’ Korea can overcome its geographical location at the end of Northeast Asia and emerge as a global pivotal country.
Vasile Simileanu: Thank you, Excellency!