Kim Pankyu: Strengthening Cultural Ties Can Improve Nigeria- Korea Relations

The Korean Ambassador to Nigeria, Kim Pankyu, recently had a parley with journalists in Abuja, where he laid bare his plan to strengthen his country’s relations with Nigeria and things put in place to ensure success of the upcoming first Korea-Africa Summit. Michael Olugbode brings the excerpts 

Can you introduce yourself?

 I am Kim Pankyu, the new Korean Ambassador to Nigeria. As some of you might know, I served almost 40 years in the Korean navy and this is my first time to serve as an ambassador representing my country. I feel honoured to be once again given the opportunity to work for my country, especially in this important and beautiful country. Already more than 50 days have passed after I first arrived in Abuja. I think it might be fair to say that I had a busy first 50 days. I met many Nigerian counterparts and diplomat colleagues to get the idea of what I need to do as a Korean ambassador to this country. I also visited Lagos, the business hub of not only Nigeria, but also Africa. I met Koreans doing business there and listened to how Nigeria is changing. At the same time, I tried to visit places where I can experience Nigerian culture such as Nike Art Gallery. I was deeply impressed by vivid and bold colours. All these experiences helped me identify priorities for my time in Abuja. First and foremost, I would like to do my best to further expand economic exchanges between Korea and Nigeria. Promoting economic partnership has always been the focus since the establishment of the diplomatic relations between both countries 44 years ago. Nigeria is already Korea’s top five trade partners in Africa. I believe we can do more. Since the current Nigerian government is actively carrying out economic reform to improve business environment in Nigeria, I will introduce this change to Korean companies and encourage them to venture into Nigeria and make investment

.  Secondly, I will explore ways to deepen security cooperation drawing on my expertise in military and security affairs. In particular, I would like to focus on promoting cooperation on maritime security because securing maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea is essential not only for coastal countries including Nigeria but also for countries passing through this region including Korea. In addition, I intend to expand Korea’s support for capacity building of the Nigerian military and security officers. Also, I will try to facilitate people-to-people exchange between the two countries. I believe culture has the power to connect people and improve understanding of each other. Korean Culture Centre in Abuja has played an important role in introducing Korean culture in Nigeria so far. I will do my best to provide Nigerians with more opportunities to experience various Korean cultural contents. I will also explore ways to let more Nigerian students can study in Korea. I believe the first Korea-Africa Summit to be held in June in Seoul, will be a momentous occasion for the relations between Korea and Africa and also Korea and Nigeria. The inaugural Korea-Africa Summit is expected to be the largest international gathering under the current administration. This reflects President Yoon Suk-yeol’s commitment to fostering a mutually beneficial, sustainable, and strategic long-term partnership with Africa, aligning with Korea’s vision of becoming a Global Pivotal State. This marks a significant step in Korea’s comprehensive strategy to engage more deeply with the Global South, reflecting our commitment to global inclusiveness and cooperation.

 Korea will host many side events on this occasion including Korea-Africa Business Summit and forums on ICT, health, tourism and energy. These events will help us come up with practical and concrete measures to expand cooperation. During the Summit, there will be plenty of opportunities for Nigeria and Korea to explore ways to expand their bilateral economic and cultural exchanges both between governments and private sectors. In a nutshell, I believe the upcoming Korea-Africa Summit will set a new milestone in the relationship between Korea and Africa.

 What are objectives South Korea aims to achieve with the upcoming Korea-Africa Summit in terms of economic cooperation and investment opportunities?

During the summit, leaders will engage in discussions centered on developing win-win strategies by leveraging the respective comparative advantages of both Africa and Korea, creating interactive opportunities that benefit both parties. Korea’s expertise in development, coupled with its unwavering commitment to aid advanced technologies, positions it to catalyse Africa’s economic growth and sustainable development. Meanwhile, Africa’s burgeoning market and ambitious development agendas offer avenues for Korea’s own growth and supply chain diversification. Above all, Korea will ensure that the results of the discussions are translated into concrete initiatives and projects. I believe it will lead to increase in joint economic projects and Korea’s investment in African countries.

What should Nigerians expect from the summit?

First of all, I believe Nigeria’s participation in the Summit is something natural, considering that Nigeria is the largest economy and the most populous country in Africa and that currently it is the chair of ECOWAS.  The Nigerian delegation’s participation in the summit will help translate Korea’s interest in Nigeria into practical cooperation and initiatives. Many Korean companies are interested in the Nigerian market and considering doing business in Nigeria, however, there are certain obstacles that should be addressed. Problems of double taxation and profit repatriation are major concerns. During the summit, the Nigerian government can share what it has been doing to address these problems and assure the Korean business community that the business environment in Nigeria is improving. I believe it will facilitate Korean companies’ investment in Nigeria. On the sidelines of the upcoming summit, many side events including Korea-Africa business summit will be held. Various forums on energy, ICT, health, tourism, etc. will be held and these events will help explore practical ways to strengthen and expand cooperation in these areas.

What advantages does the upcoming Korea-Africa Summit have for Nigeria and Nigeria-Korea bilateral cultural relations?

 On the occasion of the Summit, many events to introduce African countries and their culture to Koreans will be held. For example, 2024 Africa Culture Festival will be held this week in Seoul. I believe these kinds of events will help improve Korean people’s understanding of African culture and contribute to facilitating cultural exchange between Korea and Africa, and also between Korea and Nigeria.

We have seen many Western and Asian superpowers holding summits to expand relations with Africa. Why do you think the Korea-Africa Summit is important how does it benefit Africa and Africans?

 Having experienced the oppression of colonisation and having overcome the ravages of war, Korea possesses a profound understanding of the challenges and aspirations of African nations, more than any other country in the world. Among the countries who already held Summit with Africa, not a single country has such history that Korea and Africa share. Korea overcame those obstacles and achieved remarkable growth not solely by itself but with the support of the international community. Moreover, Korea boasts a diverse array of technologies, ranging from traditional industries to cutting-edge innovations. This technological prowess positions Korea to offer tailored solutions to address the varied needs of African countries. Leveraging Korea’s expertise in education and vocational training, alongside Africa’s abundant youth population, presents a significant opportunity for Africa’s capacity-building and skill development initiatives, empowering its youth and driving economic growth. Through the Korea-Africa Summit, we are eager to share our unique and unparalleled experience with all African countries, embodying the true value of solidarity.

 How do you intend to strength trade relations between Nigeria and Korea during your tenure as Ambassador given the untapped opportunities in both countries?

I believe the upcoming Korea-Africa Summit and the engagements between Korean and Nigerian companies on this occasion will lead to increase in the economic cooperation and trade between the two countries.  The Korean government decided to dedicate the entire day of June 5th, solely to business interactions. The Korea-Africa Business Summit will bring together government officials and business leaders from both sides to explore various avenues. Korea-Africa business consultations (B2B) will also offer African business leaders and companies with the opportunity to connect with relevant Korean counterparts, fostering genuine investment opportunities. In addition, the Trade and Investment Promotion Framework (TIPF), the MoU to promote trade and investment, is being discussed between the two countries. Once it is signed, it is expected to boost trade between the two countries.

Does South Korea have any plan to assist Nigeria in addressing the security challenges bedeviling the country?

Korea has provided various capacity building programs for military and security officers of Nigeria. I intend to expand these kinds of opportunities for Nigerians. I believe counter-terrorism courses and training programs are really useful for the Nigerian officers. I will also explore ways to help the Nigerian government equip themselves with proper hardware. The Korean navy has donated a patrol ship and it will arrive in Lagos in a few months. I will explore ways to expand this kind of assistance.

How do you intend to help Nigeria transform its agricultural sector given the fact that agricultural sector is a major area of focus by the present administration in Nigeria?

The Korean government is actively supporting food self-sufficiency in Africa, through various projects including the K-Rice Belt initiative. It aims to support African countries to improve their rice self-sufficiency rate through development of high-yielding rice varieties, supply of seeds, technique training, etc. Currently, we have signed an MOU with 10 African countries to promote the K-Rice belt project. Nigeria’s joining of this project is being discussed and when it is realised, it will surely contribute to the growth of Nigeria’s agricultrual sector.

What was your prior knowledge about Nigeria? Although Nigeria is geographically far from Korea, many Koreans have knowledge about Nigeria through its presence in culture and sports. Many Koreans are familiar with Super Eagles and Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka’s novel. In addition to this basic knowledge, I was also well aware of Nigeria’s role in maintaing peace and security in the region since I served in the Korean navy for long time

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