Dr Song Jong-Hwan Ambassador of South Korea to Pakistan
JWT: What is your assessment of the bilateral relations between Pakistan and South Korea?
Dr Song Jong Hwan (SJH): I assumed my responsibilities as ambassador of my country to Pakistan in July this year and even in such a short period, I feel that Pakistan is a great and a very important country. I think we have a great scope as well as potential for coming together in diverse spheres. The policies of the current Pakistani government, especially economic policy, are very important. And, I believe these have attracted a worldwide attention to.
JWT: As you said the economic policy of the present government is very important. How do you see the economic cooperation between Pakistan and South Korea?
SJH: To me, Pakistan’s topmost problem is energy. If I were a leader here, I would have, certainly, taken this problem as my top priority. Nevertheless, it is encouraging that Prime Minister Sharif has a strong and avowed resolve to solve this problem by 2017.
There are three options in this regard. First, immediate steps like building of thermal power plants should be taken. Second, Pakistan’s most urgent need is to build small and medium hydropower plants. And, last but not least, Pakistan must plan to build, as soon as possible, large hydropower plants. Korea is also with Pakistan in this hour and Korean investors are more than willing to invest in the power sector here.
JWT: Are there any projects undertaken by the Korean investors here in Pakistan? How do you see the likelihood of future Korean investments here?
SJH: In fact, Korean companies are already working in the power sector in Pakistan. A Korean company has completed a small hydropower plant of 84 MW and Prime Mister of Pakistan had inaugurated that as well. It was a small, but hugely-beneficial, project. At present, two Korean companies are involved in a megaproject that is a hydropower project of 1500MW. More companies are bringing an investment of $3 billion into Pakistan.
JWT: As you mentioned about South Korean investment in Pakistan, but if we see huge Korean investments in other countries, the picture here looks quite dismal. Why it is so that there is no Korean ‘signature project’ like the Motorway in 1990s?
SJH: You know, I have come to Pakistan as an ambassador recently. Our bilateral trade volume during 2012-13 remained at $1.6 billion. This means trade between the two countries is far lesser than the actual potential. During my tenure here in Pakistan, I would try my level best to raise it up to five billion US dollars. Korean investors are keen to invest here but they are held back due to certain obstacles including lack of continuity in policies. For instance, a Korean pharmaceutical company is facing tariff issue because there was a sudden change in policy. Another serious issue is of security. You can adjudge Pakistan’s image abroad from the fact that when I was coming to assume the charge as ambassador here, many friends cautioned me against travelling to Pakistan. Moreover, there are a lot of time-consuming procedures. For example, I wanted to visit AJK and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, but I had to seek permission from the concerned department.
JWT: It may have inconvenienced you but it was meant for your security.
SJH: I understand it! But, don’t forget, it may become a major obstacle in the way of foreign investment. I recently met CEO of Korean Airline to persuade him to start flights to Pakistan. He agreed but said that the total number of travellers to Pakistan was 10,000 and it would only be possible if approximately 30,000 passengers fly to Korea annually. I checked the facts and Pakistan’s ambassador to Seoul, Ambassador Muqadam, also told that as many as 100 Koreans apply for Pakistani visa every day. In Pakistan, I checked the figures and found that only 40 Pakistanis a day apply for Korean visa. Our Consulate in Karachi has little more number of the visa-seekers.
JWT: As you said, the bilateral trade between Pakistan and South Korea can be raised to more than $5 billion. How do you plan to move ahead with such an ambitious target?
SJH: This is indeed a very good question. The government in Seoul and the Korean embassy here are making serious and strenuous efforts in this regard. We have planned a series of events including rejuvenating the business forums, holding exhibitions and exchange of delegations, to name some. I have offered the Korean businessmen to come to Pakistan and stay at my home; as my guests. So they can safely, and without spending huge sums of money, explore the possibilities of doing business and making investments here.
JWT: The Korean investment figures in India expose a stark disparity as India is currently attracting more than $10b of Korean investment but that is not the case with Pakistan. Why is it so?
SJH: It’s the very question that has perplexed me a lot. Pakistan has a huge population of around 190 million that makes the country a huge ‘consumer market’. Pakistan has a huge potential for tourism as well; natural resources are also abundant here. But the obstacles like the security issues have held the investors back from coming to Pakistan. So, these issues must be resolved in order to achieve foreign investment and, in turn, the economic development.
JWT: At present, how many Pakistanis are living in South Korea?
SJH: This is another problem. According to the available data, there are nearly 10,000 Pakistanis working in Korea. But, almost 30% among them are illegal. So, we are very cautious in issuing visas here.