Ambassador Hyoung-chan Choe of the Republic of Korea looks back on state visit: 'Trusted partners who share universal values'


On 12 and 13 December, King Willem-Alexander received the South Korean president, Yoon Suk Yeol, during a state visit to the Netherlands. Mr. Hyoung-chan Choe is the ambassador of the Republic of Korea (ROK) in the Netherlands. Today, he looks back on the state visit of President Yoon, and talks about the relationship between the two countries: 'We are trusted partners who share universal values.' 

Enlarge image Ambassador Hyoung-chan Choe

Image: ©Embassy of the Republic of Korea to the Netherlands
His excellency Mr. Hyoung-chan Choe, ambassador of the Republic of Korea (ROK) to the Netherlands.

You have been ambassador to the Netherlands since May of 2023. Can you describe how your posting has been so far?

Since taking office as Ambassador in May 2023, I have tried to learn much about the Netherlands by meeting as many people as possible in the political, economic, social, and cultural fields of the Netherlands. Through these meetings and conversations, I was able to find that the Republic of Korea and the Netherlands have many similarities in terms of history and people’s character although both countries are geographically far apart.

In particular, I am very honoured to be able to serve as Ambassador at this very moment when the relationship between the Republic of Korea and the Netherlands is at its best, examplified by the first State Visit of President Yoon Suk Yeol to the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

While preparing for this State Visit, it was a very pleasant experience to be able to closely cooperate and communicate like one team with officials from the Dutch government, especially the Royal Household and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I was greatly impressed by their warm hospitality and active cooperation to make this State Visit successful.

The Netherlands and the Republic of Korea have a closer relationship than ever before. We work together in business and economics, but also on defense and safety and even culturally. Can you describe how you view the close bond between our two countries?

When Koreans think about the Netherlands, we first recall historic figures such as Jan Janszn. Weltevree (Korean Name Park Yon) and Hendrik Hamel. 400 years ago, the Dutch sailor Jan Janszn. Weltevree stranded on Jeju island, the southernmost part of Korea, in 1627, and settled in Korea as the first westerner. Hendrik Hamel, another Dutch sailor who landed on the shores of Jeju Island in 1653, published Hamel’s Journal and a Description of the Kingdom of Korea in 1668 after he returned to the Netherlands, introducing Korea to the European audience for the first time.

In addition, when North Korea’s invasion put the fate of the Republic of Korea on the brink in 1950, even before the establishment of diplomatic relations, the Netherlands dispatched more than 5,000 Dutch soldiers to defend the Republic of Korea. The noble sacrifice and dedication of the Dutch forces contributed to laying the foundation for the Republic of Korea’s free democracy and economic prosperity.

The long-standing relationship between our two countries is currently evolving into a more multifaceted and profound one. Last year we enhanced our bilateral relations to a strategic partnership when Prime Minister Mark Rutte paid a visit to Korea. And on the occasion of this state visit, leaders of our two countries, in line with the strategic partnership, have discussed specific bilateral cooperation measures, which are included in a joint statement.

Both the Republic of Korea and the Netherlands are small but strong countries that have grown based on an open and free trade system. As a result of the bilateral summit held on December 13th, the two countries have agreed to specifically realize a future-oriented cooperation across a wide range of sectors by signing various MOUs (Memorandum of Understanding) in areas such as economic security, critical items, ICT, nuclear energy, and carbon-free energy.

The Ministry of Defense of both countries signed an MOU on defense cooperation, aiming to enhance military exchanges and collaboration in various fields including peacekeeping operations (PKO), cyber-security, artificial intelligence (AI), maritime security, and defense industries, as well as to explore increased joint military exercises.

The two leaders agreed to newly establish a biennial 2+2 Foreign and Industry high-level dialogue at ministerial level, which proves that the two countries are key partners. I expect that this dialogue will significantly contribute to the strategic collaboration in various areas including supply chains such as that of semiconductors, economic security, and export controls.

In addition, as trusted partners who share universal values such as freedom, democracy, human rights, the rule of law and the rules-based international order, the Republic of Korea and the Netherlands will continue to work closely together to play a role in contributing to key regional situations including the Indo-Pacific region and global peace and security.

I am pleased that we are solidifying our long-standing amicable relations, expanding substantial cooperation in all areas between our two countries, and opening a new chapter in our partnership through the state visit of President Yoon Suk Yeol.

An important part of our relationship lies within the Dutch and South-Korean semiconductor industry. How do you see that part of our relationship develop during the coming years?

During this state visit, President Yoon became the first foreign head of state who visited the EUV cleanroom of ASML. Furthermore, both leaders of our two countries reaffirmed their commitment to building a semiconductor alliance in the Joint Statement announced on December 13th.

As our relationship is complementary particularly in the semiconductor value chain, since the Netherlands is a leading supplier of advanced semiconductor manufacturing equipment and the Republic of Korea is a key semiconductor manufacturing country, the two countries will closely connect their semiconductor industry ecosystems through comprehensive cooperation encompassing the participation of governments, businesses, and universities.

Both governments have agreed to establish a bilateral semiconductor dialogue to closely collaborate in semiconductor related policies. In particular, the joint investment by Samsung Electronics and ASML in a next-generation semiconductor R&D center is expected to give both companies a competitive advantage in terms of cutting-edge semiconductor technology.

In addition, the two countries have agreed to establish a Semiconductor Talent Program to jointly nurture the future generation of the semiconductor industry and share expertise. This initiative is expected to contribute not only to the improvement of practical training in semiconductor industry but also to addressing the shortage of semiconductor experts in both countries.

I believe that the increased cooperation between Korea and the Netherlands in the semiconductor field will not only mitigate supply chain risks for their semiconductor companies, but also contribute to maintaining a sustainable and resilient global supply chain of semiconductors.

A big recent development worldwide is the responsible use of cyber technology and AI. The Netherlands and the Republic of Korea have organized a conference on AI in the military domain together (REAIM), and are both highly involved in getting this topic put on the international agenda. In your view, why do the Netherlands and the Republic of Korea have so much overlap and common interest in this topic?

The use of artificial intelligence is expected to further expand in the future, including in the military field. As risks and concerns coexist with the development of artificial intelligence, the international discussion on how to use AI responsibly is indispensable.

President Yoon Suk Yeol has emphasized the need of establishing new digital norms over the past year on various occasions, among others in New York and Paris, and he established the Digital Bill of Rights, which provides a basic direction for digital norms, in September this year.

Korea and the Netherlands are not only among the leaders in innovative technologies such as big data and AI, but also countries that share universal values such as freedom, democracy, human rights, the rule of law and the rules-based international order. In particular, the two countries share a common understanding of the need to promote discussions on establishing constructive international governance for responsible military use of AI, and as a result, we co-hosted the first REAIM in The Hague in February of this year.

Since the first meeting of REAIM, several AI-related initiatives have emerged, such as the US Political Declaration and the UK's AI Safety Summit, and I believe that these initiatives have a complementary relationship with REAIM. The Republic of Korea and the Netherlands will co-host the second REAIM conference in Seoul next year and work together to make meaningful progress in forming international norms for responsible military use of AI.

The State Visit of President Yoon underlined the warm relationship between our countries. How did you experience the visit, and what was your personal highlight?

In November 2014, King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima paid a state visit to Korea for the first time since the establishment of diplomatic relations. The State Visit by President Yoon and the first lady marked the return visit in 9 years. I think the meaning is even more special because this year marked the 10th anniversary of King Willem-Alexander's accession to the throne.

I am very grateful to the Dutch Royal Household and government for extending their warm welcoming to the Korean President and the first lady, as well as the delegation, on their first state visit to the Netherlands.

In particular, King Willem-Alexander attended all official events, including the State Banquet and the Government Lunch hosted by the Prime Minister, joined the visit to ASML, a four-hour round trip between Amsterdam and Veldhoven, and also attended a meeting with Dutch veterans and the Business Forum on the next day. By participating in almost all of the events, I believe His Majesty the King personally demonstrated his special affection for Korea and his extraordinary consideration for the State Visit by President Yoon Suk Yeol.

Since all of the events were meaningful and had great results, it is difficult to choose just one. However, especially the sight of the President of Korea and the King of the Netherlands showing their respect by shaking hands and talking to each and every veteran at the meeting with the Korean War veterans is still deeply touching. It was a moment to reaffirm the deep ties and trust between Korea and the Netherlands.

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