NOW! Jakarta spoke to the Ambassador about the special relationship between Indonesia and South Korea and the gains this relationship has seen in recent years.

Ambassador of South Korea to Indonesia, H.E. Kim Chang-Beom. Photo by Raditya Fadilla/NOW!JAKARTA

You have recently been appointed Ambassador to Indonesia. How have you been adjusting to life this country?
I am glad to be back. I had been posted at the Korean Embassy in Indonesia for two years back in 2003 until 2005. For me it's like Pulang Kampung (coming home). Back then I was Political Counsellor. It was a transformative period. We witnessed a change of leadership from President Megawati to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. It was political maturation through the election process. But there were also the terrorist bombing attacks around period. There was the Australian Embassy bombing and the bombing at the JW Marriott hotel. it was a turbulent period but I fell in love with Indonesia. There's something always positive and optimistic here. Sweet smiles of Indonesian friends are always touching. My wife and I are really happy to be back

Indonesia has played a pivotal role as mediator in the peace process in the Korean peninsula. With the region in the news so much lately, can you share your thoughts on this important relationship?
The Asian games have begun. Just as we saw during the Winter Olympic Games in Korea, we saw gestures of peace, harmony and reconciliation between North and South Korea at the opening ceremony of 2018 Asian Games. President Jokowi invited the leaders of both countries to the opening ceremony. The Prime Minster of South Korea Lee Nak-yon visited Jakarta on behalf of the Government and had a chance to meet with Deputy Prime Minister of North Korea at the opening ceremony.

The simple fact that the Asian Games served as a platform or venue for both Korean leaders to gather in Jakarta has a symbolic meaning. It is helpful for this whole mood and momentum for peace and reconciliation to be sustained in our part of the world. Indonesia has been a close friend to both Koreas especially when it comes to peace and security on the Peninsula. As a leading country in the ASEAN community, Indonesia has been at the forefront to promote more exchanges and engagement between North and South Korea.

Thanks to support of international communities, both North and South are engaged in the process of making progress in peace on the peninsula. This year alone we have had two rounds of summit meetings between the North and the South. On 13 June, another historic meeting between Kim Jong  Un and President Donald Trump took place in Singapore. We expect the third inter-Korean summit meeting to be held  in Pyongyang, North Korea this time, Momentum for peace is now in the making. Hopefully there will be more concrete and more substantive actions to be made toward denuclearisation of North Korea.

South Korean companies have expanded here lately. How has this business relationship bolstered bilateral ties?There are 2,200 Korean companies based here with employment of over 1 million Indonesians. In Korea we have about 30,000 workers from Indonesia under the employment permit system. So both in Indonesia and in South Korea we are mutually complementing each other and respectively, contributing to sustained growth of each economy.

The Korean economic presence in Indonesia has shifted from labour-intensive industries to more capital intensive ones in the recent years. Now it is expanding into the digital economy. We have Krakatau-POSCO Steel Mills, Lotte Group, and other major Korean companies in operation.

Korean business player are taking part in power generation, infrastructure development and smart cities. More and more Korean companies are looking at potential business opportunities in such sectors as digital economy and lifestyle products.

What are your plans to develop this relationship during your time here?
Indonesia-Korea relations are already enjoying special strategic partnership. It's heart to heart relationship. There are no conflicts, no tension between us. We share common values and enjoy a lot in common in tastes and inclinations for art, entertainment etc. That's why people are feeling closer to each other.

There are three things that I hope to promote: firstly, to expand people-to–people exchanges in such a way to promote more cooperation in education, R&D and tourism. Secondly, I would like to tap into new frontiers of the economic landscape like lifestyle products, start-ups and creative industries. Thirdly, I'd like to play a role of a conduit in linking’ local to local’ cooperation.

Now in Indonesia, most of the big cities are undergoing tremendous development. Apart from Jakarta, so many cities are springing up; It's the same thing in Korea with an extensive urbanisation ratio. We have a lot to learn from each other– including from mistakes.

How do you see cultural diplomacy playing a role in fostering greater connections with South Korea, not just here, but around the world? 
Increasingly, the conventional and traditional terms of diplomacy are giving away its centrality to heart-to-heart and people-to-people diplomacy. Conventionally Ambassadors have been more or less focused on government officials and business leaders. Now Ambassadors are more focused on meeting with people on the street, young generation, and making public diplomacy.

In Indonesia it is getting more important to communicate with general public effectively through social media. Bringing more cultural and entertainment events is another task to do. For that the Korean Cultural Centre in Jakarta is dedicated to such cultural promotions. At the same time nowadays we are witnessing a hybrid type of collaborations in combining K-pop, K-Art and K-Drama with Korean products and brands.

So it creates a reinforcing effect for better brand power. The Indonesian Embassy in Korea is also trying to bring new faces of Indonesia there. There are increasingly more Korean students learning Bahasa Indonesia. They are also more familiar with Indonesian tastes like nasi goreng, satay, and sambal sauces. It is more important than business transactions to have a long-term partnership.

President Moon visited Indonesia in November last year. Through the visit the relationship was upgraded from strategic partnership to ‘special strategic partnership’. Indonesia is the only country with that label. It symbolises the importance to further encourage cultural and heart-to-heart diplomacy.

Ranjit Jose

Ranjit Jose

Ranjit is a previous Editor of NOW! Jakarta. A cultural journalist and anthropologist by training, he has reported on arts and culture for a variety of publications in the USA and Indonesia.