Gilad Cohen

Israel and Korea are having a moment

President Rivlin's visit is an excellent chance to strengthen cooperation with a great and true friend of Israel
President Reuven Rivlin arrives for an official visit to South Korea on July 14, 2019. (Tomer Reichman (courtesy)/GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin arrives for an official visit to South Korea on July 14, 2019. (Tomer Reichman (courtesy)/GPO)

President Reuven Rivlin’s visit this week to South Korea, the first since President Peres visited in 2010, underscores the significant upgrade in relations between the two countries. Israel and Korea, which established diplomatic relations in 1962, have much in common: both are democracies, both peoples have a history going back thousands of years, and both suffered difficulties in the modern era until achieving independence in 1948. The two states also have geopolitical similarities: both are allies of the United States (Korea and the US have had a defense agreement since 1967 and 28,000 American troops are deployed currently on Korean soil), and both face military threats that necessitate large investments in the security field.

President Rivlin’s visit, at the head of an Israeli business delegation, will contribute to the promotion of Israeli exports as well as trade between the two countries, which has been rising steadily in recent years and amounted in 2018 to more than 2.5 billion US dollars.

Israel and Korea are in the final stages of signing a Free Trade Agreement (FTA), an agreement of great importance to both Israeli consumers and exporters. As a result of signing the FTA, taxes on Korean products in Israel – such as Korean vehicles, LED screens, refrigerators and mobile phones that can be found in almost every household in Israel – will be reduced considerably. In Korea too, customs duties on imported Israeli products will be reduced, which will contribute to Israeli exports as well.

The economy of the Republic of Korea, with a population of around 50 million people, is ranked 11th in the world. It is the world’s largest shipbuilder, the world’s third largest electronic products manufacturer and the world’s second-largest semiconductor manufacturer.

During his visit to Korea, the president plans to see various sectors of the Korean economy: science, technology, agriculture and health. The delegation of Israeli executives who will accompany the president is comprised of companies in the fields of information and communications technology, digital health and “smart mobility” in the automotive industry. Israel can contribute to Korea through its innovation, high-tech and its unique knowledge, but can also learn from Korea’s excellence, precision and sophistication as one of the world’s great economic and technological powers.

Last year marked a 20 percent increase in Korean tourism to Israel, and we hope to see more and more Korean tourists here. The direct flights between Seoul and Tel Aviv of Korean Air (three weekly flights) and the fact that there is no need for visas helped greatly to increase the volume of tourism, business and investment.

By the way, Korean Air was the first Asian company to start direct flights to Israel in 1995, and Samsung is the first company in Asia to open an R&D center in Israel.

In the security field, the two countries maintain good cooperation, and the Israeli security industries operate extensively in Korea. We welcome this cooperation and aspire to strengthen it further.

In the past year, we have witnessed the efforts of South Korea, the United States and the international community to reduce tensions in the peninsula, and Israel is following these historical processes with hope that it will lead to the full and verifiable dismantling of the WMD manufactured by North Korea.

The president’s visit is an excellent opportunity to strengthen the diplomatic, security, economic, technological and scientific cooperation with a great and true friend of Israel in the Asian region, South Korea.

About the Author
Gilad Cohen is Deputy Director General for Asia and the Pacific at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
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