A quarter of a world away, Korea and Seychelles may appear to have little in common. The Asian and African countries in fact are similar in many aspects ? a relatively small size of land, ample marine life, fast-growing economy, vibrant democracy, educational zeal and a vision for environmentally friendly development ? on which they will continue to build cooperation, said Jean-Paul Adam, the country’s foreign minister.“Korea and Seychelles may seem like two different countries and seem very far apart. In fact, we made the distance almost irrelevant because we have such good relations,” he said in an interview with The Korea Herald. A famed destination for honeymoons and peaceful getaways, Seychelles is an archipelago republic of 115 islands located in the Indian Ocean, some 1,500 kilometers east of Kenya. It has become one of the most politically stable and richest nations in Africa since gaining independence from the United Kingdom in 1976. With a per capita income of more than $10,000, the government offers free health care and education for all its some 89,000 residents up to age 21. “Stability means that any investment brings very good return in the long run. We are also an open economy with an open taxation regime which means it’s very competitive,” the British-educated minister said.
Adam, 35, arrived in Seoul on Thursday for a four-day stay. He attended Seychelles’ national day event at the Yeosu Expo on Friday and held talks with his Korean counterpart Kim Sung-hwan on Monday over such issues as fighting piracy in the Indian Ocean, investment in renewable energy and green growth.Seoul and Victoria have been stepping up partnerships since they established diplomatic ties in 1976 despite a temporary severance between 1980 and 1995 following the Korean military’s bloody crackdown on a student uprising in Gwangju. Powered by clear sapphire seas and distinct marine environment, tourism makes up 70 percent of Seychelles’ gross domestic product, enthralling some 200,000 visitors from around the globe every year. To diversify revenue streams and drive future growth, Seychelles has been striving to court foreign investors and shore up other industries such as fisheries, small-scale manufacturing, alternative energy and resources exploration. As its biggest tuna fishing ground in the Indian Ocean is threatened by Somali pirates, Seychelles has been tightening patrols and surveillance in conjunction with Korea, the U.S., China, India and other partners. The country also is estimated to have crude reserves of about 300 billion barrels. There is no proven data yet but some projections put the figure at up to 4.3 trillion barrels. About a dozen Korean firms have a presence there, led by major conglomerates such as Samsung, LG and Hyundai Motor. Among them are smaller enterprises with a focus on renewable energy ? including Unison, a wind turbine maker; KC Cottrell, a solar panel producer; and Sunjin Engineering, a construction company. “The number one vehicle makers in Seychelles are Hyundai and Kia. Samsung phones and LG electronics are very successful and very present. Everyone knows about these brands. We see Korea as a driver of technological change and as a driver of innovation,” Adam said. With his government’s push for clean energy sources, there is a big potential for further cooperation in solar, wind and tidal power, the minister said. Seychelles has recently adopted legislation that allows anyone producing renewables to sell them to the grid operator. A rising number of Korean businesses are hopping on Seoul’s green growth initiative, aimed at perking up the economy and creating jobs through investment in eco-friendly technologies and industries. “Seychelles is a steppingstone into Africa,” Adam said. “Because renewable energies are tested in Seychelles, it’s a small population and has an immediate impact. When it works in Seychelles you can upscale it and invest in South Africa, Nigeria and many other African countries but based on models you developed in Seychelles.” Despite lingering debate over the reality of climate change, island countries like Seychelles are among the first to see and live with its impact, Adam said. As changing season patterns bring severe storms and unusually long dry spells, activists and natives are increasingly concerned about shifts in fish migration and the possible extinction of native species like the giant tortoise. The African country has designated 50 percent of its land as protected areas. It remains cautious about drilling its vast crude deposits and strictly selects extraction technologies despite its heavy reliance on fuel imports. “We do not want to make every beach have a hotel,” the minister said. “People visit countries such as Seychelles because they see something which is unique. It’s better to have 350,000 tourists a year for a hundred years than to have 1 million tourists in one year and not have anymore.” Global efforts against climate change lost vigor after a series of failures at the U.N. climate talks to seal a new accord succeeding the Kyoto Protocol, which is due to expire at the end of 2012. Adam called on all stakeholders to move past “ideological debate” and join forces to prepare for the future. “We often say that islands are barometers of the world. Changes that are about to happen on a global level, you’ll see them in islands first ? whether it is a rising temperature, whether it is changes in seasons, whether it is a rise in the acidity of the ocean,” he said. “There is going to be a huge economic impact in the future if we don’t do something. And we should not think that the problem is only for islands. It will also be a problem for all countries of the world.” By Shin Hyon-hee (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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