An Interview With H.E. Mr. Taiyoung Cho, South Korean Ambassador to IndonesiaCountry Focus
The South Korean Ambassador to Indonesia has taken Indonesian culture to heart and has learned many Indonesian songs, and wants to sing “dangdut”! He wants to have a deep understanding of Indonesia through its history and culture and says he will remain as “Indonesia-Watcher” even when he retires. In the meantime, NOW’s Alistair Speirs found him to be far from retired and very active on many fronts as you will read.
Please tell us about the follow-up of President Jokowi’s State Visit to the Republic of Korea recently. How did this visit impact the two countries?
This was President Jokowi’s first bilateral visit to South Korea since his first visit in December 2014 was a multilateral meeting celebrating 25 years of ASEAN – ROK dialogue relations. It was a State Visit, with a summit meeting followed by a state dinner hosted by President Park Geunhye, a business forum with S.K. business leaders, and one-on-one meetings with major Korean companies. It was considered by all to be a great success, and President Jokowi on returning trip to Indonesia said: “I am very satisfied with the visit to Korea”. I was so glad to hear that as I was able to accompany him throughout his trip. One highlight was when he was invited by Chosun Daily Newspaper to be a keynote speaker at the “Asian Leadership Conference”. He spoke in English and used many impressive slides to illustrate his talk. People loved it and laughed a lot.
How is the relationship between South Korea and Indonesia today and what are some points of cooperation between the two countries?
We attach great importance to the relationship with Indonesia, we have a large volume of bilateral trade, with South Korea importing oil, gas, coal and rubber from Indonesia and Indonesia is a major market for us with around 2,200 Korean companies operating here.
I would say MIKTA, an association of the five major middle powers Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey, and Australia, has established an informal relationship among the five countries; Foreign ministers of these five countries regularly meet three times per year on the side of UN General Assembly, G20, etc. I am glad these five countries, holding “middle power diplomacy” speak with one voice on global issues like terrorism, ebola epidemic or North Korean nuclear program and have a strong willingness to make a contribution to the international community.
We note that there are over 2,200 Korean companies in Indonesia. What are the major areas of trade?
Most people are very well aware of our major brands such as Samsung and LG, but they may not be aware of POSCO, a major steel producer, who built a steel mill together with Krakatau Steel in 2013 with a 3M ton capacity, but that’s not big enough to achieve economies of scale so they have a plan to make more investment and expand their productivity.
Then there’s PT Hankook Tire Indonesia who invested US$3 billion in a factory, currently building the second and intend to build up to five. Indonesia has high-quality rubber plantation so this is a good place to produce tires!
On the retail side you will have seen Lotte go from zero to 42 wholesale and supermarkets and now want to get into the entertainment business. CGV also bought Blitz Megaplex cinemas and is expanding its business in Indonesia.
During bilateral meetings between the two Presidents a number of commitments were made on trade and investment. How is that area progressing?
We really want to cooperate in every area but of course, that is too ambitious! Trade is important to both people’s welfare, but due to the plummeting values of commodities bilateral trade dropped from US$30 billion to only US$17 billion last year. The volume remained but the nominal value dropped. The two presidents agreed in their meeting to push up the bilateral trade.
On the investment sides, Indonesia is seeking more investment from South Korea, even though we are already the 3rd or 4th largest investor here. But I have to say more and more South Korea companies want to start their business in Indonesia.
I do believe that the investment approval process at BKPM has significantly improved but just speeding the process to three hours is not enough, we need to emphasize on post-investment care as well.
What other areas would you like to develop in the ROK-RI relationship?
There are many other areas we need to develop:
- Defence sector: Indonesia is the biggest importer of defence equipment from Korea and in turn, we have bought military aircraft, and having done the buying and selling relationship we now move into joint production where we have started a joint production of jet fighter with a target in the year 2020.
- Creative Economy: MOU on the cooperation in Creative Economy was signed attended by the presidents of two countries during the state visit. The Korean Creative Content Agency (KOCCA) is going to open their office in Jakarta and co-working with Economy Creative Agency of RI (BEKRAF). There will be a line of a cooperative event in the area of Creative Economy: Film, Fashion, Character, Animation, Content, etc from August-December 2016.
- Energy Independent Islands: ROK-RI is cooperating to apply energy independent islands concept on two small islands near Batam using both wind and solar energy to produce electricity which is stored in an ESS (Electrical Storage System).
This increases the welfare of the inhabitants and reducing the expenditure of government. One of the Korean companies funded by ADB and Korean Bank through ODA is ready for this project.
In what ways can Korea help Indonesia in its economic development?
South Korea is a leader of “green growth” and we believe development can be sustainable only when it is “green”. We have learned the lesson from the history of our economic development and we are realized that we need to protect the environment and promote real sustainability.
In fact, the Global Green Growth Institute which is based in Korea is chaired by former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and now has a branch office here in Jakarta.
One specific area we are trying to help in is the restoration of the tropical peatlands which are so important in our lives. We have discussed this in depth with Indonesia in our summit meeting. We also have agreed to cooperate in promoting travel and tourism. One of the Korean companies signed an MOU to help sustainable development of Tanjung Lesung, a special tourism zone.
What are your ambitions professionally and personally as Ambassador here in Indonesia?
Personally, I like Indonesia very much and I love Indonesian songs! I have learned and memorized twelve of them – and the Pancasila! Professionally I want to become an expert on Indonesia. I want to have a deep understanding and knowledge about Indonesia history, culture, politics, economy, etc.
I will remain as “Indonesia-watcher” even when I come back to my country.