Book reviews 50-year Korea-Swiss ties
By Kim Se-jeong
Outgoing Swiss Ambassador to Korea Thomas Kupfer was proud to present a book “50 Years Switzerland – Korea.”
“It is worthwhile to make a little history to see,” Ambassador Kupfer told The Korea Times during an interview in his Seoul office on July 25, flipping through the pages.
Published in May, the 194-page book provides a comprehensive and compact summary of the 50 years of history between Korea and Switzerland. It is divided into seven different topics — politics, economics, science and innovation, environment, culture, tourism and the Yeosu Expo with interesting and informative facts.
Korea’s Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan wrote in a preface that Korean cup noodles are now sold at the Jungfrau peak. Swiss chemical and pharmaceutical companies such as Sandoz, Ciba-Geigy and Roche were among early business partners of Korea in the early 1960s when the textile industry was the bread earner for a young developing country.
In 1884, Arnold Wolff, a Swiss consul to Japan, requested the Swiss government to expand his consular duties to the then Joseon Kingdom.
The ambassador thanked the embassy staff for their dedication to the book making which took almost five months. A hard copy of the bilingual book has been available, while the electronic version was made public recently.
Korea-Switzerland official diplomatic relations began 50 years ago.
Kupfer said the real relations had begun with the Swiss membership of the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (NNSC) in 1953.
The Korean Armistice Agreement invited an international commission to monitor the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). The Swiss Armed Forces arrived at the DMZ in 1953.
The ambassador said the decision to participate was a courageous one. “Switzerland was not so active in sending its military abroad back then.”
“We expected the mission to last only a few years,” before a peace agreement was signed, but that never happened. Next year will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the NNSC.
The Korean War broke out on June 25, 1950. On July 27, 1953, the Armistice Agreement was signed to end the fighting. The agreement called for the governments of South Korea, the United States, North Korea and China to negotiate in continued peace talks.
The Swiss presence at Panmunjeom is now one of the main pillars of bilateral relations.
Having entered into force in 2006, the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) serves as a catalyst in the bilateral relations.
According to the Korea International Trade Association, between 2005 and 2011, the bilateral trade jumped from $1.74 billion to $3.68 billion, a 111-percent jump.
The EFTA is a free trade organization among four non-EU member European Union states - Liechtenstein, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland.
Korea and Switzerland envisage to revise the agreement, with which the ambassador hopes to see more Swiss cheese products in Korea at a more affordable price.
“We don’t have huge agricultural products. We’re convinced that Korean consumers are interested in Swiss cheese, and we’re trying to adjust the system.”
Pharmaceutical and chemical commodities and high-tech machinery are the leading Swiss exports to Korea, whereas Korean-made appliances dominate its exports there.
Tourism can’t go without being mentioned.
Switzerland is among the top European destinations among the Korean hikers, college students and honeymooners.
According to the embassy, approximately 170,000 overnight stays were spent by Koreans alone in Switzerland.
The success in attracting Korean tourists lies also in the work of Switzerland Tourism, the tourism marketing and sales organization, in Seoul.
Kupfer said Swiss tourism is in crisis because of the rise of the value of Swiss franc against the troubled euro. Fewer European visitors go to Switzerland for vacation, and “more focus is on Asia,” stressing the importance of Korean tourists.
Completing a four-year posting, the ambassador is leaving for Singapore.
His first posting in Asia gave him an extensive understanding of Asian values and culture. He said he was impressed by the goal-
oriented mindset and discipline of Asians. On the other hand, he confessed the language barrier was quite a challenge in carrying out daily life. “(It was) Not on the professional level,” he said.