SEOUL: Lebanon and South Korea have yet to establish the necessary foundations to promote political and economic ties as Lebanese investors find little interest in the South Korean market and vice versa, Lebanon’s Ambassador to South Korea Issam Mustapha told The Daily Star.
In an interview held at the Lebanese Embassy’s headquarters in Seoul, Mustapha said the Lebanese state has invested few efforts in boosting relations with South Korea, which celebrated the 30th anniversary of the establishment of its embassy in Lebanon over the weekend.
Mustapha said Beirut has failed to boost the role of its embassy in Seoul, mainly due to a lack of funds allotted for such a purpose, as well as Lebanon’s domestic political woes.
However, it is not the Lebanese state alone that assumes the responsibility of the weak economic and commercial ties between the two countries, Mustapha added.
He said the high cost of Korean products compared to their Chinese counterparts has discouraged Lebanese businesses from diving into the market, with merchants naturally looking to maximize their profit margins by importing from China.
However, the Lebanese ambassador said the embassy has lately focused its efforts on finding an alternative vehicle to boost commercial ties between Seoul and Beirut by seeking to position Lebanon as a trade hub between Korea on the one hand and the Middle East and North Africa on the other.
Mustapha said Lebanese businessmen active in North Africa and the Gulf could play the role of middlemen, facilitating exchange between the Far East and the Arab world.
South Korea, Asia’s fourth largest economy and the world’s 10th largest, is export driven, with production focusing on electronics, automobiles, ships, machinery, petrochemicals and robotics, while its main imports from the Gulf remain mainly oil from the Emirates and gas from Qatar.
Echoing these poor Lebanese-Korean economic ties, Seoul also remains the least desirable destination for Lebanese tourists in East Asia when compared to Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia or the Philippines.
Mustapha said that despite ongoing efforts to promote cultural exchange between Lebanon and South Korea, Lebanese tourists still regard Seoul as an unlikely destination to visit.
But despite the few number of Lebanese residing in South Korea, Mustapha said a new association to promote culture exchange between the Arab world and Korea was founded in 2009, with 14 Arab embassies on its board of directors and comprising more than 30 large enterprises.
The formation of the Arab-Korean Cultural Association has followed the establishment of the Lebanese-South Korean Friendship Association. However, Mustapha said the Lebanese Embassy, which was established 15 years ago, still lacks the financial means to promote Lebanese culture in Korea.
Nevertheless, South Korean peacekeeping troops stationed in southern Lebanon continue to actively introduce Korean culture to the region’s residents through humanitarian aid and educational programs while the Korean Embassy organizes biennial trips for Lebanese to tour South Korea.
Upon an invitation from the South Korean Embassy, a group of journalists and municipality figures from south Lebanon visited South Korea in early February and were introduced to various facets of the country’s culture.
The South Korean battalion “Dongmyeong” of the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon, with nearly 300 members, has been operating in south Lebanon since August 2007.