2023 marks the 65th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the Republic of Korea (ROK) and the Kingdom of Thailand. Elite+ sat down with HE Ambassador Moon Seoung-hyun, to learn how ties have grown stronger between the two nations. Ambassador Moon arrived in Thailand in 2022. A career diplomat since joining the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1988, he has constantly moved around the world every three years. His overseas postings include Washington, DC, (three times) and the ROK’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York as well as Nigeria, Iraq and the Czech Republic. Ambassador Moon has developed his career as an expert in ROK-US relations and has served as the Director-General of the North American Affairs Bureau. He has also served twice at the Presidential Office as Director for Protocol and Secretary to the President for Foreign Affairs. In Thailand, Ambassador Moon is accompanied by Madame Suh Myung-ji, who is an active member of SHOM (Spouses of Heads of Missions)
How would you say your previous postings as the ROK ambassador to the Czech Republic and in Washington, DC and at the ROK mission in New York helped you prepare to assume the ambassadorship to Thailand?
My postings in the US, the Czech Republic and other countries prepared me to be the ambassador to Thailand by enriching my experience and knowledge of global geo-politics and geo-economics. Thailand, as a part of Southeast Asia, has had strategic and economic importance for many decades. To build good networks
with Thai society and its people, it is important to understand its relations with Europe as well as with the US, where I served. Thailand has developed its unique diplomatic position, often described as “Bamboo diplomacy”, and played an active role as an original member of ASEAN. My experience of multilateral issues in
New York has helped me to work with many international organizations, including UNESCO, the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, located in Bangkok. I hope my previous experience will contribute to finding more common ground that will lead to new opportunities with Thailand.
How did you mark the 10th anniversary of the Strategic Partnership between the ROK and Thailand, and can you tell us anything about the Joint Action Plan that sets the direction for the next five years in developing even closer bilateral ties?
Commemorating the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the Strategic Partnership between our two countries, a Joint Action Plan was adopted in the presence of the president of the Republic of Korea and prime minister of Thailand on the margins of the 2022 ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh held last November. The two sides identified six major areas political security; people-to-people exchanges and culture; health; future industries and trade; and green economy and sustainable development – with specific projects that will set the direction for bilateral relations in the next five years (2022-2027) in a more concrete manner.
What would you say have been some of your achievements during your first year as the Republic of Korea’s ambassador to Thailand, and what plans do you have for 2023?
My first year in Thailand focused on strengthening networks with the Thai government as well as business and civil society leaders. As part of these efforts, I have met most ministers, including the prime minister and deputy prime ministers. In addition, I have expanded partnerships with Thai civil society by initiating the "Korea Fund for Local Initiatives”. During the 2022 APEC Summit hosted by Thailand, I organised the Thai Business Leaders Luncheon on the occasion of the visit of Prime Minister Han Duck-soo, inviting CEOs of major Thai companies, including CP, PTT, SCG, BGrimm, Indorama Ventures, BJC and AMATA.
Another accomplishment is the consolidation of Korea’s soft power in Thailand. Whenever I have paid courtesy calls, the ROK’s growing soft power has always been one of the key agendas discussed. Hosting the ‘Soft Power Seminar’ last year and supporting many joint projects, I am pleased to play a role in boosting our cooperation in a range of fields from culture to education. It is also interesting to note that Korean was selected as the second most popular foreign language subject that Thai high school students chose for the university entrance exam.
Lastly, I would like to bring attention to our efforts to foster and promote bilateral trade and investment. The trade volume between Korea and Thailand reached a record level of USD 16.5 billion at the end of 2022. Based on such accomplishments, I will work to continue to expand our partnership in many different fields. As this year marks the 65th anniversary of Korean-Thai diplomatic relations, I sincerely hope to leave some meaningful legacy for our future bilateral relationship.
Can you tell us something about bilateral trade between the ROK and Thailand and what you are doing to promote this here as well as among ASEAN members, particularly after the address given by your president, Yoon Suk Yeol, at the ROK-Pacific Summit in November of last year where he proposed fostering a “free, peaceful and prosperous Indo-Pacific region through solidarity and cooperation with major countries, including ASEAN”?
The core element of Korea’s Indo-Pacific Strategy is strengthening our partnership with ASEAN member
countries, including Thailand, under the recently announced Korea ASEAN Solidarity Initiative (KASI). Traditionally, we have focused on economic cooperatio and people-to-people exchanges with ASEAN countries
but in addition, the Yoon government would like to further strengthen security cooperation to address common regional as well as global security challenges.
In terms of bilateral economic relations with Thailand, I am planning to prioritise our cooperation in new areas such as electric vehicles (EV), biotechnologies, pharmaceuticals and the environment, in tune with Thailand’s Bio-Circular-Green Economy (BCG) model.
What advice would you give Thai entrepreneurs who may be interested in trading with the ROK?
Countries have their own distinct business cultures. Entrepreneurs need to be more innovative and aggressive in defining themselves. My advice to Thai businesses is dare to go to Korea and actively meet your counterparts to explore more business opportunities. One eye-witness weighs more than ten hearsays. Last year, our embassy and KOTRA, the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency, co-organised many business forums, exhibitions and business consulting events while arranging visits of Korean entrepreneurs interested in Thailand.
What type of assistance can your embassy and the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (Bangkok Office) provide to Thai entrepreneurs interested in investing in the ROK?
KOTRA can be the Thai business community’s one-stop shop for business information such as trade investment infrastructure. It can also link Thai companies and investors with potential partners in the Korean market. If Thai businesses want to travel to Korea to hold business road shows, KOTRA can be a great help. Besides KOTRA, we have many government agencies located in Bangkok as well as competent attachés from the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy (MOTIE), Ministry of Economy and Finance (MOEF) and the Korea Customs Service at our embassy, ready to provide necessary information and support to Thai businesses.
What else does the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (Bangkok Office) do in Thailand and around the region?
KOTRA’s main activities are focused on helping with the growth of export companies, creating new business areas, and providing infrastructural support to strengthen global competitiveness of entrepreneurs. KOTRA organizes many trade exhibitions and provides consulting services for customers in foreign markets. It also assists Thailand and other countries around the region in finding investment opportunities in Korea. As the ambassador, I regard myself as a frontline worker in the field of global trade, helping Thai businesspeople seek
potential investment and trade opportunities. I strongly encourage Thai businesspeople to reach out to our
embassy or the KOTRA Bangkok Office.
How big would you say the South Korean community is in Thailand and what businesses are they involved in?
We have approximately 25,000 Koreans living in Thailand, and large numbers are involved in tourism-related businesses, including restaurants, hotels and travel agencies. We also have many Korean businesspersons working as suppliers and partners of Korea’s largest companies such as Samsung, LG and POSCO.
Thailand is well known as one of the dream destinations for digital nomads in the world. I hope that many Korean start-ups and digital nomad entrepreneurs will come to work in Thailand. This would be conducive to a more vibrant and diverse Korean community in the near future.
During your first year in Thailand, what has impressed you most about Thailand and its culture, and what plans do you have to experience more of what the Kingdom offers?
I have been truly fascinated by the deep history of Thailand and admire the cultural diversity from the north and northeast to the south as well as the Thai people’s welcoming and patient character. As Thailand is renowned as the “Land of Smiles”, I feel that the friendliness of Thais is a strong foundation for Thailand’s soft power. I have travelled to many places, including Ayutthaya, Udon Thani, Lopburi and Hat Yai, among others.
Thai food, much loved throughout the world, is full of flavour. I will continue to enrich my knowledge of Thailand by exploring its history and culture in different parts of the country.
Do you have any final thoughts you would like to leave with our readers?
Korea has maintained 65 years of diplomatic ties with Thailand since 1958. With our deep-rooted ties, we have nurtured real bonds based on our shared commitment to peace and prosperity. Thailand was one of 16 UN member countries to send troops during the Korean War (1950-1953) to defend Korea’s freedom and reconstruction efforts. Thailand is now a powerhouse of K pop artists and many talented Thai artists, including Lisa of Blackpink, BamBam and Minnie of (G)I-DLE, have gained popularity worldwide.
Many Koreans travelled to Thailand before Covid-19, being ranked as the 4th largest group of tourists coming to Thailand. The number of Thai students in middle and high schools learning Korean is the highest in the world. These facts clearly demonstrate that Korean-Thai relations have never been better or stronger than today. As the Korean ambassador to Thailand, I truly value our long-standing cooperation and will engage in heartfelt efforts to ensure that Korea continues to be a reliable and future-oriented partner of Thailand.