Question: The number of tourists traveling between Taiwan and South Korea last year surpassed 2 million, and both sides have expressed the hope to boost the number to 3 million. What are your short-term plans to achieve that goal?
Yang Chang-soo: We have indeed seen a steady increase in the number of [South] Korean tourists to Taiwan and vice versa. There are many reasons, one of them was the airing of popular Korean travel-reality show Grandpas Over Flowers in 2013.
There are also many eye-catching elements in both countries, including pop culture, entertainment and shopping.
Photo: Chang Chia-ming, Taipei Times
In light of the growing number of tourists, the two governments have put in place several institutional measures, such as a memorandum of understanding [MOU] signed last year establishing a reciprocal program for automated immigration clearance. The program shortens the clearance time and has brought great convenience to travelers.
There are a number of suggestions I would like to make on how to further expand bilateral interactions.
We should offer more to people. For instance, the South Korean and Taiwanese governments could arrange a “year of mutual visits.” This would serve as an umbrella under which we could design various events about culture, sports, travel and more.
There are also the so-called “Taiwanese trend” in South Korea and the so-called “Korean wave” in Taiwan, which have been a key factor in our friendship. We can use that by arranging mutual visits by Taiwanese and [South] Korean celebrities.
I have noticed that Taiwanese tourists to South Korea often start with areas immediately adjacent to Seoul, while [South] Koreans visiting Taiwan often choose sites in Taipei and New Taipei City for their first trip.
The variety of tourist attractions is important and we should develop other potential tourist sites.
In July 2017, I drove around Taiwan and realized that there are many attractions here.
However, foreigners might not know the attractions worth visiting in Taiwan. I believe Taiwan would see better tourism results if it works to develop a greater variety of cultural products.
However, increasing 2 million visits to 3 million requires special efforts and ideas. At the moment, the Taiwanese and South Korean governments are negotiating an MOU on the mutual recognition of each other’s driver’s licenses. It would help attract more independent and young travelers. We are hoping that an agreement could be reached in the first half of this year.
Q: South Korea has been a popular destination for working holiday programs among Taiwanese and vice versa. Are there any improvements you would like to make to the program?
Yang: When I took over the helm at the mission in 2017, the annual working holiday visa acceptance quota was just 600, but it has been increased to 800.
The program is so popular that all the spots were almost filled up on the first day of this year’s application period on Jan. 3.
I believe that the program allows young people from both sides to learn about each other’s language, history, culture and way of life. It could also help cultivate talent that speak each other’s language, who could serve as an important bridge between Taiwan and South Korea for bilateral interactions and cooperation, particularly in the area of business.
The Korean Mission in Taipei holds an introduction seminar on the program every year, which is our way of maintaining communication with young people. We hope that concerned government agencies and key media outlets in Taiwan could also show an interest.
Q: In 2009, South Korea established the Korea Creative Content Agency to facilitate the development of its cultural industry. Taiwan is to set up a similar agency in the first half of this year. Could you share some of your experiences?
Yang: While support from the government is important, what matters more is for the private sector to take the initiative and be creative.
The “Korean wave” is not something that was started by the [South Korean] government, but rather by the private sector. To facilitate the development of the cultural industry, we need to stimulate creativity in the private sector and spur its motives.
Over the past two years, I have discovered many great assets in Taiwan.
The first is its people, whose warmth and kindness have touched the heart of many [South] Koreans and prompted them to keep returning to Taiwan.
As a diplomat, I have visited many countries, but Taiwanese are by far the kindest and warmest. This is an extremely valuable asset.
The second is Taiwan’s cultural assets. [South] Korean independence activist Kim Gu during the Japanese colonial era said that “if Korea could ever be independent, I also want it to become a cultural world power.”
However, compared with Korea, Taiwan has even greater cultural assets, such as its Chinese culture heritage and the treasures stored at the National Palace Museum. I believe there are immense potential and possibilities for Taiwan’s cultural industry.
The third is your natural assets. Taiwan is home to various landscapes, such as mountains, oceans, valleys and hot springs. Its national beauty does not pale in comparison to that of Switzerland.
Last is the food assets. I have told Korean tourists that Taiwan not only has the famous Din Tai Fung, but also Cantonese, Sichuan and Shanghai dishes that have been incorporated with local Taiwanese culinary elements.
I believe that with better efforts to explore other unique cultural elements here and a more effective promotion, Taiwan might catch up with South Korea in no time.
Q: South Korea’s New Southern Policy shares many similarities with Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy. Do you think the two could cooperate on this area?
Yang: The two policies indeed have many similarities in terms of target countries and goals.
However, the difference is their scope; Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy is not limited to Southeast Asia; it also includes Southwest Asia, Australia and New Zealand.
South Korea and Taiwan have experience in climbing out of poverty, and evolving from developing countries into what they are today. There is room for us to cooperate with emerging countries in targeted regions in the areas of education, medicine, agriculture, information technology and the management of small and medium-sized enterprises.
Taiwan enjoys a strong network of ethnic Chinese in Southeast Asia, while South Korea is able to maintain official ties with countries in the region. I think we can explore areas where we could cooperate and help each other.
Statistics show that the bilateral trade volume between Taiwan and South Korea reached more than US$35.5 billion last year, with Taiwan being [South] Korea’s six-largest trading partner and South Korea being Taiwan’s fifth-largest.
Of the more than 190 countries in the world, we really do enjoy close ties, and hopefully this cooperation can continue in the future.
Another reason why it is easier for Taiwan and South Korea to communicate and understand each other is that we are two of the only three like-minded countries in Asia. We share similar ideas on freedom, democracy, the rule of law, market economy and protection of human rights. We can march forward hand in hand.
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