A little over a year after a state visit by South Korean President Park Geun-hye to Bern, Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter met with her again today for talks in Seoul. As was the case a year ago, when Ms Park and then-President of the Swiss Confederation Burkhalter visited a vocational education and training establishment in Bern, vocational education and training was one of the topics they discussed to highlight the close and long-standing relations between Switzerland and South Korea.
The Head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs thanked President Park for the organisation of the Asian conference of the Organization for Security and Co-operation (OSCE) in Seoul. This year’s meeting between the OSCE and its Asian partner states was opened by Mr Burkhalter and Mr Yun. Switzerland currently chairs the OSCE Contact Group with the Asian Partners for Co-operation.
During their bilateral talks in Seoul, the two foreign ministers also discussed security issues. Two days after the “Shangri-La Dialogue” security conference in Singapore, which focused on promoting cooperative security in Asia, they discussed possibilities for confidence-building in the region. The topics discussed included the North East Asia Peace and Cooperation Initiative (NAPCI), which was launched last year by South Korea. NAPCI aims to encourage closer cooperation in areas such as disaster relief, environmental protection, civil use of cyberspace and nuclear safety. It is based on OSCE principles, in particular the promotion of cooperation and mutual understanding and trust through regular dialogue and established structures. The long-term goal of the NAPCI is to achieve stability in Northeast Asia through confidence building.
In his talks with Mr Yun, Mr Burkhalter emphasised the importance of joint preventive measures to fight violent extremism. For this reason the two foreign ministers also discussed the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund (GCERF) which supports local initiatives to protect groups at risk of radicalisation and violent extremism. Switzerland supports the fund, which is based in Geneva, and has provided CHF 5 million to support the fund's activities in its first four years.
Other topics of discussion were the abolition of the death penalty and human rights. Mr Burkhalter thanked Mr Yun for South Korea's contribution to the establishment of an office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Seoul which will support the work of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
Close relations between Switzerland and South Korea
Relations between Switzerland and South Korea are close and intensive. A research agreement to promote and facilitate scientific cooperation between the two countries has existed since 2008. In addition South Korea is one of Switzerland’s seven non-European priority countries in the field of research. The two countries also have close economic relations which were further intensified through the free-trade agreement concluded in 2006 between South Korea and the European Free-Trade Association, of which Switzerland is a member.
Switzerland has also long maintained a presence on the demarcation line between North and South Korea. Switzerland has been a member of the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission since 1953. Five Swiss specialists are currently deployed in Panmunjom. As part of its active Korea policy, Switzerland also hosted the four-party talks from 1997 to 1999 between South Korea, North Korea, the United States, and China. In addition, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation is running a humanitarian programme in North Korea focused on food and income security, water supply, waste water management and environmental protection. This programme is also appreciated in South Korea.
From South Korea Mr Burkhalter will travel on to Vietnam where he will have talks in the capital, Hanoi, with representatives of the country. Vietnam is currently experiencing dynamic development especially in the economic field. At the same time, however it is being affected by the increasingly tense security situation in the South China Sea.
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