|To gauge the direction of cooperation between Korea and the world, Korea.net is running a series of interviews with ambassadors to Korea. The third installment of this series features Swedish Ambassador to Korea Jakob Hallgren, who speaks on the potential of Korean-Swedish relations as both countries this year mark 60 years of bilateral ties.|
By Lee Hana
Photos = Jeon Han
Video = Kim Sunjoo, Choi Taesoon
Seoul | March 18, 2019
Korea and Sweden are many miles apart, over 7,500 km to be exact.
Korea is a densely populated country of 51 million that saw rapid economic growth after a war that ultimately halved the Korean Peninsula. Sweden, meanwhile, is the fifth-largest country in Europe in area and has a population of 10 million, which is around the number of residents in Seoul alone.
Despite such geographical and societal differences, Koreans and Swedes are supposedly quite similar in mentality and attitude, according to Swedish Ambassador to Korea Jakob Hallgren.
“We are competitive, but we like to collaborate. We like to deliver things on time, we cherish premium quality and we’re innovative. There’s a big potential there to tap into,” he told an interview with Korea.net on March 18 to discuss this year being the 60th anniversary of bilateral relations.
Adding that Korea is “trendier in Sweden now than ever before,” he said young Koreans nowadays seem to have a lot of curiosity about his country.
The following are excerpts from the interview.
– Korea and Sweden on March 11 marked 60 years of diplomatic relations. How would you characterize this relationship?
Given where our two countries were back in 1959, especially on the Korean side, we’ve seen spectacular development both economically and democratically. Even before 1959, Sweden, along with other Nordic countries, set up medical facilities in Korea during the Korean War. So it was a strong and warm relationship from the beginning. And from that, it has developed, deepened and broadened to full-fledged relations between equals today.
– Sweden has embassies in South and North Korea and personnel in Panmunjeom as a member of the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (NNSC). How would you describe Sweden’s role on the peninsula?
Sweden has a very special role on the Korean Peninsula. So with the embassy in Pyeongyang, we were the first Western country to establish diplomatic relations with North Korea in 1973, and we’ve had an embassy there since 1975 uninterrupted. We have strong bonds with South Korea and the NNSC on the border. That gives us a particular role that no other country has. Sweden is so far away — we don’t have any particular strategic interests in this region — so we come across as an honest broker.
– How would you assess Korea-Sweden relations in a nutshell?
Strong and getting stronger. The relations between the two countries have never been as close as they are today. There is political affinity now and a sincere and deep curiosity from both sides, and that bodes really well for the future.
– What events commemorating the 60th anniversary can we look forward to this year?
We’ve organized monthly seminars during the anniversary year called Sweden Talks, where we invite a Korean and a Swede to talk on a topic of common interest. In January, we covered innovation and startups and this week (March 18), we’re doing peace and security. Other topics include gender and human rights, the welfare state and green growth. We also have the annual Sweden Day event on June 5 and a big film festival in four Korean cities. We’re also working on bringing high-level delegations in both directions.
– You once said that if Sweden and Korea combined their innovative powers, they’d be second to none. Could you elaborate on this?
That’s a match made in heaven. Korea and Sweden are very innovative, each in different ways. Not so long ago, we had a delegation of Swedish startups visit Korean startups here in Seoul. As a result, an agreement was signed between a Swedish tech hub and a startup center under the Seoul Metropolitan Government. I hope that more will come as a result of that.
– You mentioned a lot of Korean household brands that have become well-known in Sweden. Could you name a few?
For cars, there’s Kia and Hyundai. There are smartphones by Samsung and LG. I would also like to extend it to music and food. My kids and my friend’s kids all know everything about K-pop, and that’s a worldwide phenomenon. Korea is trendy in Sweden today. The hipsters of the south side in Stockholm make their own kimchi. You can buy kimchi at Swedish food stores. This was unheard of 10 years ago. Korean restaurants are popping up.
Korea is popular in Sweden right now. I’m sure that could be a door opener for all the other exciting things that I’ve discovered here not yet available in Sweden.