Our Government hopes that the PyeongChang Olympics will bring peace and stability to the world

Shin Boonam was born on 25 February 1958. He received a bachelor’s degree in German Language and Literature from Seoul National University and a master’s degree in International Relations from Boston University, USA.

Hejoined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1982 where he later held various positions such as Director of Economic Cooperation Division, and Senior Coordinator for Environmental and Scientific Affairs. He has also worked as Director-General for International Cooperation at the Ministry of Environment. In 2011he was Ambassador for Green Growth to forge the negotiations on the Agreement on the Establishment of the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI). In 2013 he was Ambassador for Climate Change atthe Ministry of Foreign Affairs, responsible for leading international negotiation on climate change for the Republic of Korea.

During his Diplomatic career he has served in various South Korean Missions abroad: in Geneva / Switzerland /, the Philippines, Berlin / Germany /, in the United States. Prior to arriving in Bulgaria, he was Ambassador to the State of Kuwait.

E. Mr. Shin Boonam presented his credentials as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Korea to the Republic of Bulgaria on 10 May 2016. His mandate here takes place during interesting and challenging times, when the world, drawn with the contradictions of globalization, is about to come together in "Harmony and Peace" for the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. A time when the Republic of Korea is on the brink of the 4th Industrial Revolution and Bulgaria has taken over Presidency of the Council of the EU. When our bilateral relations – "stronger than ever" - still have greatpotential for expansion, which means a lot of work and responsibility for an Ambassador. This is what he has to say about this ….

- Your Excellency, we are days away from the start of the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang. What are some of the innovations that the Republic of Korea will present during the Games? We expect to see some technological miracles…

- As you know the IT sector is very advanced in our country. During the Winter Olympics the Republic of Korea plans to present the latest innovations in the field: 5th generation mobile networks (5G), artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, sophisticated holograms. As an example, the Korean Government recently launched the first ever Internet of Things street in Gangneung city, where everyone can enjoy an IoT panorama, a media wall, or relax in a smart healing chair. There will also be speaking humanoid robots, giving directions and information on schedules and tourist attractions atairport and transport stations; cleaning robots will be in use as well. These are part of the innovations we can expect to see.

- And during the Opening ceremony of the Olympics?

- I expect many interesting things during the Opening ceremony, however, details are traditionally kept secret by the organizers. What we know is that it will be held on the evening of 9th February at the PyeongChang stadium that has capacity of 35 000 seats. The theme of the ceremony is "Harmony and Peace". I hope that Bulgarians will find it interesting – not just the ones who will be in PyeongChang, but those watching from home too.

- You said that the slogan of the games will be "Harmony and Peace". In fact, the Olympic Games have always been a time for peace in the world. Do you think that they will be able to bring together countries in today’s world full of contradictions? What about North and South Korea? We learnt that North Korea plans to participate in the Games...

- Yes, that is so. North Korea expressed desire to participate in the games - not just in the Olympics but the Paralympic Games as well. This was confirmed during high-level talks between South and North Korea that took place on 9th January. North Korea will send a delegation that includes athletes, a cheering team, as well as a Taekwondo demonstration team that will have a couple of demonstrations in PyeongChang and Seoul during the Games. Of course, we are happy because the more countries participate, the more the PyeongChang Olympics will be the games of peace. Not just on the Korean peninsula but for the international community as well. Our Government hopes that the Games will contribute towards peace and stability in the world.

Another main priority of our Government is safety and security during the Winter Olympics. We want the PyeongChang Olympics to be the most secure ones so far – both for the athletes, as well as the guests.

- Events of this kind provide a major boost to tourism. Do you have information on the number of tourists expected?

-  What we currently know is that 3000 athletes from 95 countries will participate in the Games. Around 30 000 people are expected to attend the opening and closing ceremonies. But guests will come and go all the time – during the 17 days of the Olympics and then during the Paralympic Games that will last 10 days. Therefore, we do not have an exact figure as of yet. However, the tickets sold so far are 400 000 in total and about half of those are to foreigners.

- Speaking of sports – what are the relations between our two countries in that field?

- Bulgaria and South Korea have excellent relations in the field of sports. I would specifically like to mention the development of Taekwondo, a traditional Korean martial art. Taekwondo is very popular in Bulgaria where about 3000 people practice this discipline. The Bulgarian Taekwondo Federation-WTF is very active and pays great efforts for the development of the sport. During the past year the federation hosted two European Championships and is organizing another this year. In November last year we also held the 4th Ambassador’s Cup Taekwondo Championship.  On this occasion, the World Taekwondo Headquarters in Seoul sent a special demonstration team that had demonstrations in several Bulgarian cities which attracted a lot of attention. A Memorandum for Understanding between the World Taekwondo Headquarters and the Bulgarian Taekwondo Federation-WTF was signed last year. The MoU is the first step towards the establishment of a Taekwondo center in Bulgaria that will help disseminate this sport not only here but in the region as well. We hope that your country can become a hub for the development of Taekwondo for the whole of Europe.

- Your country is world famous for its exceptional achievements, especially in the field of technology. What achievements are you most proud of?

- In the field of IT, one of our top priorities is e-Government. Bulgaria as well is interested and has taken steps towards the establishment of e-Government. It allows people to receive services and information online and significantly reduces bureaucracy. Our other priority in sphere of IT is of course innovations, some of which we already mentioned: artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, Big Data, Cloud Computing – all of these are elements of the 4thIndustrialRevolution that is underway.

- You are so technologically advanced, yet manage to preserve your customs and traditions. How do you succeed in balancing the past and the future? Is this a state policy?

- Of course, our Government has policies and allocated budget for the preservation of our traditions and customs. Our philosophy is that it is important to remember the past in order to learn from it. We cannot be successful if we keep making the same mistakes. Therefore, in order for the next generation to have a better future, it is important to learn the lessons from the past. It is also important to preserve our cultural heritage and remember our traditions. Despite the modern world we live in and despite globalization, we are still the children of our ancestors. For us and for me personally it is essential to preserve our cultural heritage.

- You recently stated that bilateral relations between the Republic of Korea and Bulgaria are better than ever. Is this due to the exchange of high-level visits over the past several years?

- The exchange of high-level official visits greatly contributes to the development of bilateral relations as it allows us to explore new areas for cooperation. Since we established diplomatic relations in 1990, we have worked together to promote our bilateral relations. Several Bulgarian Presidents have since visited the Republic of Korea, most recently President Plevneliev in 2015. During his visit a Joint Declaration on the Comprehensive and Future-Oriented Partnership between the Republic of Korea and the Republic of Bulgaria was signed. We currently develop our bilateral relations based on this declaration. In addition, the Korean Foreign Minister visited Bulgaria in 2016 and in August 2017 the President of the National Assembly of Bulgaria visited Korea along with a parliamentary delegation. In October last year our Prime Minister visited Bulgaria. We hope that the exchange of high-level visits will continue in the future and that the Winter Olympics will boost this process.

- Currently Bulgaria presides over the Council of the EU. Do you expect this to contribute towards the development of Korea-EU relations?

- Ever since the establishment of diplomatic relations between our countries, Bulgaria and the Republic of Korea have been excellent partners. As a solid member of the EU, Bulgaria has always supported Korea on both bilateral and global issues, especially North Korean nuclear issues.  Therefore, we wish that the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU will contribute further towards the development of Korea-EU relations.

- In December last year you received the BCCI award for your contribution to the development of economic relations between our countries. What are the ways to strengthen these relations and what part will the newly created Bulgarian-Korean Chamber of Commerce and Industry play in this process?

- The Korean-Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry was launched during the visit of Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-Yeon who personally attended the inauguration ceremony at the Hyundai Motors Showroom in Sofia.  The Chamber is an independent organization, created upon the initiative of businessmen from both countries. Their objective is to provide support and information to people who plan to invest or start a business in either Korea or Bulgaria. Those are the main activities of the chamber that will, of course, be aimed at promoting commercial and economic relations between our two countries. 

- Does the Korean business have investment interests in Bulgaria and in what fields?

- Currently trade volume between our countries is USD 300 million and Korean investments in Bulgaria amount to USD 500 million. We believe there is much more potential for expansion of trade and investments. Just several days ago a Korean company visited Bulgaria and signed a contract with L.B. Bulgaricum for export of Bulgarian yoghurt, and a contract with Devin JSC for export of mineral water. This happens for the first time and only proves that there is great potential to expand trade between Korea and Bulgaria.

In terms of investments – Korean investments in Bulgaria so far have primarily been focused on solar and renewable energy sources. Lately, Koreans have begun to recognize Bulgaria for its quality organic and bio products. Part of the Korean business interests have already been directed in this area. There are investments in the production of organic mushrooms, and as of late, there is a dairy factory near Varna. I believe that this will contribute for further increase of investments andtrade volume between our countries.

- In the end of 2017 the Embassy organized various cultural events in Bulgaria. What are some of the events we can look forward to in the coming year?

- There is great interest in Korean culture in Bulgaria, especially among the younger generation. Therefore all the traditional cultural events we hosted in the past year will be included in our cultural calendar for 2018. We will present traditional and modern music, dance, as well as Korean cuisine.

To be more specific, in March there will be a Korean pop concert. The concert is organized by a Bulgarian impresario, not the Embassy, but it would still be a Korean cultural event. We will also have a traditional and modern Korean music and dance performance in May.

- The interest of Bulgarians in Korea is growing. Is there a reciprocal interest from the Korean side especially when it comes to tourism?

- In both 2016 and 2017 about 10 000 Korean tourists visited Bulgaria. According to our information, about 2000 Bulgarian tourists visited South Korea in 2016. As Ambassador, I see great potential for expansion of tourist relations. Bulgaria has a lot to offer to foreign tourists: mineral springs, clean air, the Black Sea coast, rose oil, wine... All this would surely attract even more Korean tourists. However, we should not ignore the geographic distance - a person travelling from Korea needs 14-15 hours in order to reach Bulgaria. All this compels us to look for various promotional events that could bring Bulgaria closer to Koreans and vice versa. As an example - a Bulgarian called Mihal Ashminov has a restaurant in Seoul called "Zelen". He also appears on a cooking show on a Korean TV channel where he popularizes both Bulgarian cuisine and your country ingeneral, which helps to attract tourist interest in Bulgaria. This is only one example of how people from our two countries could work to promote interest in one another’s cultures. In this connection, the Embassy appointed two Honorary Consuls in the cities of Varna and Burgas - both places where we expect an increased tourist flow from Korea, and therefore in need of special attention which the Honorary Consuls could provide.

- You told us what your fellow countrymen like in Bulgaria. But what do you and your family like here?

- I have travelled the whole country – from north tosouth and east to west. I like Bulgaria. I like it because in a way it resembles my home country. The climate is very similar - there are four seasons. There is very good mineral water, I also like the high-quality Bulgarian wine. I ski and find that there are excellent winter resorts here. You have a really beautiful environment and it is a challenge for you to preserve it. I believe that you will succeed and in 10-20 years’ time there will be a lot of tourists here, not just from Korea or Europe, but from all over the world who will enjoy your beautiful nature as medical tourism.

Photo: "Diplomatic specrtum". H. E. Mr. Shin Boonam, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Korea with Soohorang, a white tiger, PyeongChang Olympic mascot, and Bandabi, Asiatic black bear, mascot of the PyeongChang Paralympic Games