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Germany looks back on 140-year ties with Korea

A list of cultural, business exchanges planned to celebrate bilateral ties that started in 1883

April 18, 2023 - 15:25 By Sanjay Kumar
German Ambassador to Korea Michael Reiffenstuel (fourth from left) takes part in the kickoff ceremony for the 140th anniversary of German-Korean ties at Signiel Seoul in Songpa-gu, Seoul, on April 4. (German Embassy in Seoul)

Revisiting the trade, friendship and shipping treaty signed between the then German Empire and Joseon Kingdom on Nov. 26, 1883, German Ambassador to Korea Michael Reiffenstuel said Germany and Korea have developed a close partnership and trustful friendship in the 140 years since.

The two countries established consular relations in 1954 and upgraded to full diplomatic relations in 1957.

"A unique bond between German and Korean societies is the shared experience of being a divided nation," Reiffenstuel said, adding that the two countries share common values like democracy, a rule-based international order, multilateralism and respect for human rights.

Germany was divided into West Germany and East Germany in 1949 while the Korean Peninsula was split into the North and South after World War II.

According to the German Embassy in Seoul, Germany contributed to laying the foundation for Korea's economic boom in the 1960s and 1970s.

The picture shows the opening phrase of the Korea-Germany Trade Treaty signed on Nov. 26, 1883, which served as the first bridge in Korea-Germany relations. (Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Reiffenstuel also referred to the year 2023 as the 60th anniversary of the recruitment agreement on a program for the temporary employment of Korean miners and nurses in Germany.

In the 1970s and 1980s, over 10,000 Korean nurses and 8,000 Korean miners went to Germany and contributed to the economic growth of Germany and Korea.

Germany needed mining workers in the 1960s to overcome the labor shortage which led to the signing of a temporary employment plan for Korean miners dispatched to West Germany.

The agreement is said to be the first signed by Germany with a country outside the European bloc.

"Economy has always been an important cornerstone of German-Korean bilateral relations," said Reiffenstuel, adding that he hopes to see expansion in cooperation in areas ranging from science and research to culture and civil society.

"I believe we will be even closer partners in the future when it comes to jointly tackling challenges such as climate change and environmental protection, utilizing digitization and artificial intelligence," said Reiffenstuel.

He urged Germany and Korea to embrace the opportunities offered by innovations in energy storage, smart grids, renewable energy, zero-emission vehicles, and eco-friendly, energy-efficient buildings that are leading the way to promote new industries.

In particular, Reiffenstuel sees huge potential for German-Korean economic collaboration in green industries, renewable energies including offshore wind and solar, and the hydrogen sector.

He suggested German and Korean companies explore the automotive sector, digitization of the machinery sector, and logistics, chemicals and innovative startups.

"In growth industries such as semiconductors, batteries for electric cars, pharmaceuticals, or the energy sector, Korea is pushing ahead with long-term plans to expand renewable energies," he said.

"I believe that efforts to increase climate protection are likely to lead to further investment requirements in many sectors, and here I also see the potential for cooperation."

Logo for the 140th anniversary of Germany-Korea relations (German Embassy in Seoul)

Celebrations: From films to orchestra

Reiffenstuel applauded the growing people-to-people and cultural ties between Germans and Koreans.

"Germans love to visit Korea and study Korean; they grew to love it from Netflix dramas, K-pop and K-culture," he said.

German artists and productions are set to be featured at a host of cultural events in Korea this year including the Gwangju Art Biennale, the Jeonju Film Festival, the Busan International Short Film Festival and the Tongyeong International Music Festival.

In the field of arts, galleries and orchestras from Berlin, Munich, Bremen and Hamburg will take part in celebrations for the milestone anniversary as well.

He said the German Embassy was doing its best to bring people together across generations.

"This is where inspirations and visions arise for a better future that we build together," Reiffenstuel said.