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[Herald Interview] North Sulawesi's links with Korea, win-win, says governor

June 11, 2024 - 13:59 By Sanjay Kumar
Governor of Indonesia’s North Sulawesi Olly Dondokambey speaks in an interview with The Korea Herald at a restaurant in Gangnam-gu, Seoul on Wednesday.(Indonesian Embassy in Seoul)

North Sulawesi Gov. Olly Dondokambey cited links between North Sulawesi-South Korea as a win-win for both Indonesia and South Korea during an interview with The Korea Herald on Wednesday.

"Direct flights between Jeju and Manado, taking approximately four hours, are crucial. Indonesian citizens can visit Jeju without a visa, enhancing tourism and business travel," Dondokambey said referring to the strategic importance of direct flights between the two countries.

According to Dondokambey, a memorandum of understanding signed with South Korea’s leading budget airline Jeju Air on mutual development of tourism and creative economy in 2022 was a landmark agreement for North Sulawesi.

"Talks are also underway to enhance the role of Bitung Port, strategically positioned for trade with Korea," the two-term elected governor told The Korea Herald.

"This facilitates exports and imports, making North Sulawesi a significant hub in the region," he said.

North Sulawesi governor Olly Dondokambey meets South Korean President Yoon Seok-yeol at his inauguration ceremony in 2022. The governor accompanied Indonesia's former President Megawati Sukarnoputri at the ceremony. (Indonesian Embassy in Seoul)

North Sulawesi currently exports top products like coconut and coconut milk to Korea but Dondokambey invited potential Korean companies to take advantage of North Sulawesi’s Special Economic Zones.

“Daewoo Engineering & Construction, for example, built Ring Road 1 in Manado, significantly enhancing connectivity in the capital city,” noted the governor, highlighting Korean investment’s role in building infrastructure for the region.

“Many foreign investors target the Western part, but now if you think about the future, the Eastern region notably the North Sulawesi province is indeed a promising location," he underlined.

The Bitung Special Economic Zone covers 534 hectares, with 92.79 hectares owned by the North Sulawesi Provincial government and the remaining 441 hectares owned by the general public.

North Sulawesi Governor Olly Dondokambey(first from left) poses for a photo with his spouse Rita Dondokambey(center) and eldest son Rio Alexander Dondokambey, an Indonesian politician affiliated to Indonesian Democratic Struggle Party in Gangnam district, Seoul. Rio Alexander Dondokambey is set to resume office as member of Parliament from Oct. 1, 2024. (Indonesian Embassy in Seoul)

According to Dondokambey, the strategic location and infrastructure of Bitung Port and Sam Ratulangi International Airport serve as the hub of the Eastern region of Indonesia.

Growing ties

Meanwhile, Dondokambey also shared deep connections with South Korea and growing ties with Korea through frequent high-level visits such as the inauguration ceremony of President Yoon Suk Yeol and Jeju Forum for Peace.

“Accompanying Indonesia's former President Megawati Sukarnoputri in 2022 for inauguration ceremony of President Yoon Suk Yeol, was a memorable experience," Dondokambey recalled.

"Cooperation with Korean regional governments such as sister provinces is already in progress," Dondokambey stated.

Governor of Indonesia’s North Sulawesi Olly Dondokambey speaks in an interview with The Korea Herald at a restaurant in Gangnam-gu, Seoul on Wednesday.(Indonesian Embassy in Seoul)

Introducing North Sulawesi's strategic location, a closer trip to South Korea in comparison from Jakarta, the current capital, also its unique cultural heritage, he said that the province was influenced by Dutch and Spanish colonial history, which resonates with Korea's appreciation for cultural diversity.

"We (North Sulawesi) offer a variety of culinary delights, including dishes similar to Korean cuisine. People from North Sulawesi often eat fish and fish-based products, similar to Koreans," said Dondokambey.

"There is a dish from Rita, my wife’s hometown, namely Sup Kuah Asam (Sour Broth Soup) which tastes identically to Jiritang, the Korean clear fish soup," he said.

The governor also stressed promoting a creative economy via music and film, inspired by the Korean Wave, and pledged support for young Indonesian talents like Dita Karang, who drew a crowd of 20,000 in Manado in 2022.

"It’s the right time for North Sulawesi, and we are committed to building not only a stronger partnership but also a closer friendship with Korea.