W ith complementary relationship between Uzbekistan and South Korea getting more important, recently the two nations have accelerated the efforts to strengthen their ties, including the recent second state visit by President Lee Myung-bak to the Central-Asian nation where approximately 130 different ethnicities have lived in harmony for over 70 years. BusinessKorea sat down with Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary H.E. Mr. Vitali V.Fen, Dean of the Diplomatic Corps in Seoul, to hear his viewpoint on bilateral relations between the two countries.
Q: Please outline some distinctive features of the Uzbekistan economy, such as some of your major economic indices, for those not familiar with it.
A: The day of September 1, 2011 marks the 20th anniversary of the Independence of the Republic of Uzbekistan. Based on five principles developed by President Islam Karimov (1. De-idealization-economy is above politics / 2. Gradual reforms; rejection of shock therapy / 3. The rule of law / 4. The government is the main reformer / 5. Social protection is the realization of strong social policy), which constituted the foundation of the well-known “Uzbek model of development,” the state has taken the role of main reformer, defining basic strategic directions for economic policy and implementing them without any sudden leaps or shock therapy for two decades, and yielding positive results.
Thanks to this, the country had attained grain and energy self-sufficiency, while steadily implementing strategic plans regarding reforming and modernizing the national economy. During the years of independence, tens of new large enterprises equipped with modern technologies were constructed in Uzbekistan. Among these is the automobile plant in Asaka city, which produces passenger cars, the Shurtan gas chemical complex which manufactures polyethylene granules, the Kungrad soda ash factory and the Dehkanabad potash fertilizer factory which are used to raise the fertility of the soil and productivity of agricultural crops.
The “Uzbek Model” of economic development has ensured macroeconomic stability and the balance of internal and external sectors of the national economy, as well as its sustainable growth. Uzbe-kistan’s GDP growth in recent years has been one of the highest in the world at 8-9 percent. Last year GDP growth stood at 8.5 percent. An increase in industrial output, stable macroeconomic indicators, a state budget surplus and moderate inflation increased the flow of investment into the national economy in 2008-2010 1.8-fold, and 2.4-fold when including foreign investments and loans. While in the early 90's, the share of FDI among total investment volume amounted to 10-15%, the figure is now an average 83-85%. Over the years the country has created more than 4,200 enterprises with foreign capital.
Consistent, high economic growth, a stable and credible finance and banking system, and the successful transformation of its economic structure all clearly indicate that Uzbekistan has chosen the right path since independence. Over the last 10 years (2000-2010) the country’s GDP has grown almost doubled, while per capita has risen 1.7-fold.
Most recently, during the 19th Session of the UNWTO General Assembly 2011 held in Gyeongju, Uzbekistan won the vote bypassing Kazakhstan and was included in the Executive Council which is another indication of its potential for stable economic growth.
Q: Korean President Lee Myung-bak recently made his second state visit to Uzbekistan, as well as signed MOUs between the two countries. What will be the important outcome from this?
A: Bilateral relations between the Republic of Uzbekistan and the Republic of Korea were established in 1992 and have grown stronger and stronger over the years. Both countries share many common interests. In particular, Tashkent shares Seoul’s desire for peace and stability in the region, and a nuclear free Korean peninsula. Uzbekistan supports President Lee Myung-bak’s initiatives regarding “New Asia Diplomacy” and the “Energy Dip-lomacy.” Uzbekistan was among the first countries to support Pyeongchang as a candidate for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.
South Korea is one of Uzbekistan’s largest investment partners. Korean investments will exceed US$5 billion in the coming years, with more than US$2 billion already invested. As of 2010, bilateral trade increased 31.4% and totaled more than US$1.6 billion. Over 350 companies operating in Uzbekistan use Korean capital.
Uzbek-Korean ties have recently intensified in the cultural-humanitarian sphere too, especially between universities and academic institutions. More than 10 Uzbek universities cooperate with 20 South Korean universities. The Korean Education Center has been successfully operating in Tashkent since 1992, and has trained 3,500 Uzbekistani people in this time.
The two countries also regularly hold high-level meetings, which reflect the growing development in bilateral relations. The last summit was held on August 23-24, 2011 in Tashkent. President Lee Myung-bak's two-day state visit has once again strengthened his personal bond with President Islam Karimov. The two leaders have met every year since 2008. At the last summit, they expressed satisfaction with the status of relations and cooperation between the two countries, and agreed to work together to expand them. They also agreed to boost people-to-people exch-anges to mark next year’s 20th anniversary of bilateral diplomatic relations. Lee praised Karimov's role in helping to stabilize Central Asia and Afghanistan, and asked for Uzbekistan’s continued support in the international arena. Islam Karimov spoke highly of Seoul’s role in the international community, such as its hosting of last year’s G-20 summit and its planned hosting of next year’s Nuclear Security Summit, and pledged to continue to support South Korea on the international stage.
South Korea and Uzbekistan also signed approximately 20 economic cooperation agreements in the areas of health care, medicine, IT, and textiles, etc. Among these was a US$4.16 billion package of deals to develop the Surgil gas field near the Aral Sea and the construction of gas and chemicals plant in Uzbekistan. The project is the largest-ever contract signed between the two countries.
There is no doubt that the visit significantly contributed to the strategic partnership and cooperation between Uzbekistan and Korea, raising bilateral relations to new heights.
I am glad to announce that on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Independence, President Islam Karimov awarded Kim Yong Gu, a member of the National Ass-embly, Cho Yang Ho, chairman of Korean Air, and Son Kyong Shik, chairman of the Korean Chamber of Comm-erce and Industry with the “Dostlik” (friendship) Order for their significant contributions to the development of a strategic partnership and friendship between Uzbekistan and Korea, as well as strengthening mutual understanding between the two nations.
Q: As Ambassador to Korea, are there any particular requests or wishes you would like to share during your stay here in Korea? What would you like to have accomplished during your post? Furthermore, what are the embassy’s plans for 2012?
A: In the upcoming years, bilateral relations between Uzbekistan and Korea will be intensified, particularly on the political and diplomatic levels, in the form of official state visits and political consultations.
The efforts of the embassy will be mainly aimed towards the realization of the agreements concluded between the two countries during the recent summit, covering economic and trade spheres as well as investment. Such development is mutually beneficial for the welfare of both nations.
During the recent summit in Tashkent, the leaders of the two countries agreed to hold a number of bilateral activities to mark the 20th anniversary of bilateral diplomatic relations between Korea and Uzbekistan, including people-to-people exchanges and cooperation in education. Various cultural and art festivals, concerts, and sport events will be held in both countries to mark the anniversary. Such activities will be among the most important issues for the embassy in 2012.