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News Focus I

News Focus
120th Anniversary of Korea-France Diplomatic Relations

Lee Yang-gu
Counsellor, Embassy of the Republic of Korea in France
Why Celebrate the 120th Anniversary?
The year 2006 marks the 120th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Korea and France, which is being commemorated with the staging of a variety of events in France to introduce Korean culture to the French people.
Typically, the anniversaries of diplomatic relations are commemorated on the 10th, 25th, 50th, and 100th years, at 10-year or 25-year intervals. However, the 120th anniversary could be viewed as completion of the second round of a 60-year cycle, which is a significant timeframe in Oriental philosophy. With the 60-year cycle being associated with the human life span, the significance of this period can be applied to international relations as well.
The relations between Korea and France could be divided into two stages, a first half of about 60 years from June 1886, when bilateral diplomatic relations were established, to the end of World War II in 1945, and a second half, from the liberation of Korea from Japanese colonial rule up through today, 2006. The first 60 years was a period of "disgrace"for Korea, which fell under Japan's colonial rule because of its lack of national strength, at a time when France was one of the world's most powerful nations. Thus, the Korea-France relations during this period could be regarded as being asymmetrical and unequal. However, during the past 60 years there has been dramatic change, in particular regard to Korea's global standing, which includes its emergence as the world's 11th-largest economy, thereby attaining a relatively equal footing with France, whose economy ranks 5th in the world.
Korea Foundation President Kwon In Hyuk (second from left), French Ambassador to Korea Philippe Thiebaud, and Korean actor Lee Byung-hun (far right), who has been appointed Goodwill Ambassador of France, participate in a ribbon-cutting ceremony, as part of a press conference held by the Embassy of France in Korea to commemorate the 120th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Korea and France, at the Seoul Press Center on February 16.
While in the first 60 years there were only scant exchanges and cooperation between Korea and France, the latter 60 years have seen steadily growing bilateral interaction in such areas as politics, the economy, and culture. In particular, people exchanges have increased sharply, with the number of Koreans visiting France reaching 350,000 in 2005. The Korean community in France has undergone notable development as well. The history of Korean immigration to France dates back to 1919 when 35 Korean workers entered France under work permits issued by the French Labor Ministry. Since then, the Korean community has seen steady progress, with the number of Koreans residing in France currently numbering about 13,000.
Commemorating the 120th anniversary of Korea-France diplomatic relations is intended to identify a vision for cooperative development by reevaluating the past relations between the two nations and promoting mutual support for closer partnership ties. Based on this common objective, at the summit meeting between Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and French President Jacques Chirac, held in Paris in December 2004, the two presidents declared a "future-oriented comprehensive partnership"as the vision for Korea-France relations, and agreed to hold the 120th anniversary events as part of specific efforts to realize this vision.

Wide Diversity of Events
First of all, the slogans "Korea into Your Heart"(Core au Coeur) and "Aja! France," a well-known line from the popular Korean TV drama, "Lovers in Paris," were adopted to help promote the anniversary events. The activities being held in Korea and France include Korea-France film festivals, Korea-France philharmonic orchestra concerts, joint fashion shows, and joint animation exhibits. Moreover, France will present over 30 events in Korea, including a special exhibition of art works from the Louvre Museum, while Korea is planning to stage over 100 events in France, which will cover such diverse fields as politics, economy/business, science & technology, culture, and the local Korean community.
In the political field, the Korea-France History Forum will be held on June 1-2. In particular, at a commemorative perfor-mance and related reception being held on June 8 at the Palais de Versailles, the National Dance Company of Korea will present "Korea Fantasy" for numerous prominent figures of Korea and France.
Also, Korea will participate in the 7th e-Democracy World Forum, on October 18-20, as the guest of honor. This forum will provide an excellent opportunity for Korea to present the diverse innovations of its advanced IT sector.
As for cultural activities, over 70 events, including Hwang Byung-ki's gayageum performance, a Korean film festival, Korean ceramics exhibition, Ansung namsadang presentation, and samulnori performance, have already been held. And additional events are being presented throughout France during the remainder of the year.
Related to the fields of business/ economy and science & technology, such events as an economic forum, hosted by the Korea-France chamber of commerce, Korea-France industry & technology forum, and joint science and environment symposium will be held.
Of note, during an "Ad Fest Night," to be held from 11:00 p.m., September 8, to 7:00 a.m., September 9, at the plaza of La Defence, advertisements of 20 leading Korean businesses will be continuously shown. As the guest of honor, Korea is presenting a diverse range of cultural activities, which will provide a great opportunity, for especially the young generations of France, to learn about Korea.
In addition, a number of events are being hosted by the Korean community in France. At Grenoble and Bordeaux, large-scale events have already been successfully held, while a presentation of ganggang-sulae (a traditional Korean circle dance), is slated for June 9-11, at the Peace Park nearby the Eiffel Tower. Korea's traditional dance, traditional music, such as samulnori and pansori, taekwondo, and Korean food will be introduced to the French people at various events held at outdoor venues in Paris.
The Korean community in France will also stage a hangawi (full moon) festival in October. At last year's hangawi festival, held in September 2005, more than 1,300 people participated, including Koreans as well as French residents.
The organizers of the e-Democracy World Forum intend to declare the period of this forum as a "Korea Week," in hopes that Korea will host a gala concert performance on the final night of the forum.
La Défence, often referred to as the Manhattan of Paris, is the business center where not only leading French businesses, but also some 3,600 businesses from Europe and beyond, maintain their headquarters. Various cultural events, including a sculpture exhibition will be held near Grande Arche, the landmark symbol of La Défence. At the plaza of Grande Arche, where the donated works of the world's leading sculptors are on display, Korean sculptor Im Dong-rak will exhibit his works from June 7 to September 4. He has agreed to donate one of his works to La Défence at the conclusion of his exhibition.
Meanwhile, additional events to introduce Korea to the French people are being organized for presentation in such cities as Lyons, Toulouse, Strasbourg, and Rouen.

Efforts to Assure Participation
The organizing committee for the 120th anniversary commemorative events agonized over the fundamental issue of what could be done to assure that the more than 100 planned events would be successfully attended. Some noted that since a number of Korea-related events are already being held in Paris, there was no real need to also present 120th anniversary events.
However, the events to commemorate the 120th anniversary of Korea-France diplomatic relations can be differentiated from other activities in several regards. First, they are designed to create synergy effects through the integration of various areas of interest.
Second, partnership endeavors between the public and private sectors have been encouraged, along with efforts to maximize participation of the Korean community in France. The Association of Korean Residents in France is thus playing a central role in organizing the related events.
Third, the commemorative events are designed to enhance the image of Korea throughout France by connecting Paris with the other regions of France.
Fourth, publicity efforts are being optimized with the retention of a professional PR agency, with considerable experience in this kind of undertaking and knowledge about local conditions. On February 27, at a press conference held to unveil the events for the 120th anniversary of Korea-France diplomatic relations, more than 150 French journalists were in attendance, confirming the value of the PR efforts.
Meanwhile, 100,000 copies of four types of brochures are being printed and distributed to provide publicity of the anniversary events. Thanks to these efforts, major French TV programs that deal with cultural events have aired extensive coverage of the Korea-France 120th anniversary events. Furthermore, to boost the PR activities on the Internet, an exclusive website for the 120th anniversary has been in operation since February 2006, along with a French portal site. The French site is being viewed by 3,000-4,000 visitors daily, with the total number of visitors exceeding 300,000.
Fifth, these events are being promoted from a mid- to long-term perspective. Since France is a country with a huge appetite for diverse culture, where a large number of world-class cultural events are held every year, organizers are known to spend three to five years on detailed preparations. The organizing committees are thus making efforts to develop these 120th anniversary events into sustainable projects with a long-term future, rather than simply being one-time performances.

Anticipated Results
Above all, the anniversary events are intended to help lay a solid foundation for a "Comprehensive partnership" between Korea and France by enhancing mutual understanding, between the Korean and French peoples, and presenting a vision for cooperative development. Also, people exchanges between our two countries are expected to increase noticeably this year, on the occasion of the 120th anniversary.
Expectations are high in the business and trade sectors as well. Even though the image of Korea has seen improvement in France thanks to Korean films and Korean businesses, there remains an impression that Korea is still not properly known in France. For example, in a survey of French consumers who had bought Korean products, about 60 percent mistakenly thought that the Korean companies were Japanese. Hopefully, an enhanced image of Korea through the 120th anniversary events will thus increase the popularity of Korean products.
Also, Korea's image as a "Cultural contents" power will be bolstered. There was a time when the number of Koreans visiting France increased sharply due to the popularity of the TV drama, "Lovers in Paris." Recently, a French company announced plans to undertake the joint production of a TV drama with a Korean partner. This could be seen as an indication of the extent to which the French have come to appreciate Korean culture.
The Korean community in France is expected to be a primary beneficiary of the anniversary events. With so many French participants likely to join with Koreans in large-scale events, such as ganggangsulae, the related activities are viewed as being highly significant in terms of consolidating the cooperative relations between the Korean and French people
Currently, more than 10 percent of the French population belongs to ethnic minorities, with the majority being of North African ethnicity. As for Asian immigrants, the size of the Chinese community is expanding rapidly. Though the Korean community is still not particularly well known in France, the success of the 120th anniversary events will give a huge boost to the self-confidence of Koreans, along with noticeably heightening the profile of the Korean community.

In order for the 120th anniversary events to be a true success, it will be necessary for the Korean side to have France recognize that Korea is a reliable partner who is capable of two-way cooperation in every area, including politics, business/trade, and culture, and to strengthen the friendly relations between the two nations. For 2006, the Korean government has designated six priority projects to enhance Korea's national image, one of which is the commemorative events of the 120th anniversary of Korea-France diplomatic relations.
Recently, I heard from Korean students attending an international school in France that their schoolmates from other countries praised Korea as a "great country which achieved tremendous development over a short period," and that everyone wanted to have a Samsung cell phone. Furthermore, I heard that while most foreign students attending the international school would complain about their home countries, the Korean students talked positively about Korea, while taking pride in being Korean and showing their patriotism. It was indeed wonderful to hear this.
As such, I truly hope the anniversary events will eventually become popular festivals in which the dynamism of Korea is well displayed.

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