It was snowing as I touched down in Seoul in November for my second visit in three months, and it was as vibrant as when I visited in the sunshine of August.
If anyone thinks that the missiles or nuclear tests just north of the border have intimidated South Koreans, they would be mistaken. This nation has lived with that threat for decades, and it remains business as usual. In fact, Korean financial markets have steadily grown, only showing muted reactions to tensions.
Despite the South’s inspirational attitude, North Korea’s recent missile and nuclear tests continue to shock the world. These threaten peace in the region and more widely; and invite upon the North Koreans the very dangers their government says it seeks to defend against.
North Korea must stop breaking UN Security Council Resolutions and illegally developing nuclear weapons.
This was the message I emphasised during both visits, as well as affirming the UK’s enduring support to South Korea. We also urged North Korea’s other neighbours – China and Russia – to do more. Ultimately, only North Korea can decide to stop these programmes, and focus instead on providing a better life for its people.
Only when this happens can North Korea and the global community discuss a diplomatic solution.
Today’s South Korea is not defined by the threats it faces.
It is a country that recovered from near destruction during the Korean War to become an economic superpower in only a few decades – not through its natural resources or good fortune, but through its hard work, determination and innovation.
You might not think that the UK and South Korea have much in common. I disagree. We have a long shared history. We work closely together in the G20 and the UN on a wide range of issues, including peacekeeping in South Sudan. We fought shoulder to shoulder during the Korean War, losing 1,106 brave British soldiers – more than in the recent Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts combined. Our defence relations remain strong today.
So do our trade and investment ties. Annual UK-South Korea trade already exceeds £11bn. If the UK is to make a success of Brexit, we need a positive, buccaneering, expeditionary outlook.
We also need to ensure that we continue to strengthen people-to-people and trade relations with nations like South Korea. Be assured that is exactly what we are doing.
South Korea is now the third largest retail market in Asia. UK luxury products and high street brands are gaining footholds in the Korean marketplace. Financial services are also collaborating, with the partnership between the Rothschild Group and Samsung Asset Management resulting in reciprocal access to Asian and European capital markets.
Likewise, in the energy market, South Korean firm KEPCO was named the preferred bidder to develop a new, multi-billion pound nuclear power station in Cumbria. And British company Aggreko will be providing electricity at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. These are just a few of many examples, and our team in Seoul is exploring new areas of cooperation every day.
Even after visiting the Demilitarised Zone, ironically the most militarised border in the world, I am clear that South Korea is a land of morning calm and a place of prosperity, with more to come as this thriving nation continues to innovate and grow.
The British government is committed to working with South Korea to take advantage of the opportunities that abound for us.
The North Korean regime should see their southern neighbours as an example of what they could achieve through a commitment to peace and prosperity, and by abandoning their current reckless and misguided course.