Georgia dials up diplomacy with Korea at silver jubilee

By Joel Lee
  • Published : Dec 18, 2017 - 16:55
  • Updated : Dec 18, 2017 - 16:57
Despite the distance between them, Georgia and Korea share many similarities that have made them freedom-loving, free market-oriented partners increasingly drawing on one another, the top Georgian envoy here has stressed.

As the two countries celebrate the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations this year, they can also cherish having transformed their tumultuous legacies under foreign occupations into independence and solid development, Georgian Ambassador to Korea Otar Berdzenishvili told The Korea Herald.

Georgia and Korea officiated their diplomatic ties on Dec. 14, 1992. Next year, Georgia marks the centennial of its declaration as the first democratic republic as well as the 26th anniversary of independence from the Soviet Union. 

Georgian Ambassador to Korea Otar Berdzenishvili (right) and K-Water CEO Lee Hak-soo pose at a reception marking the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Georgia and Korea in Seoul on Dec. 8. (Joel Lee/The Korea Herald)

While Korea has become the world’s 11th largest economy with a per capita income of $30,000, Georgia is, by many accounts, one of the most stable democracies and vibrant economies in the South Caucasus, with a strong bent for reform, according to analysts. The World Bank’s annual report, “Doing Business 2018,” placed Georgia at No. 9 of 190 countries surveyed, a drastic improvement from the 100th spot over the last decade. The report also placed Georgia second in the world in terms of protection of minority investors.

“Over the last few years, our governments have stepped up our existing cooperation on bilateral and multilateral levels,” Berdzenishvili said in a speech at a reception marking the silver jubilee of diplomatic ties in Seoul on Dec. 8.

“The construction of Nenskra hydro power plant by K-Water Company is the biggest Korean investment in the energy sector in the region,” he added, referring to the hydroelectric dam being built on the Nenskra River, Upper Svaneti, through a joint venture between the Georgian state-owned Partnership Fund and Korea Water Resources Corporation, also known as K-Water.

The project’s construction started in September 2015, and is scheduled to be completed by 2020, when it will have capacity of 280 megawatts.

Georgia hosted the inaugural Sustainable Development Goals 16 + Forum Annual Showcase in capital Tbilisi from Oct. 30-Nov. 2. Some 150 representatives from 25 countries, including Korea, participated in the event, and discussed policy and best practices for achieving the United Nations-led goals, with a specific focus on the 16th goal -- creating peaceful, just and inclusive societies. 

Nenskra Hydroelectric Project

“Our bilateral cultural cooperation is thriving,” he underlined, mentioning the two recent separate translations of Georgian epic poem “The Knight in the Panther’s Skin” into Korean by Yonsei University professor Cho Ju-kwan and Korea University professor Hur Seung-chul.

Since Tbilisi loosened visa rules for Korean citizens visiting Georgia, the number of Koreans traveling to the country has increased dramatically, said Berdzenishvili. The number of Georgian students studying at Korean universities has also risen sharply since the Korean government increased the breadth and scope of scholarships for Georgian students.

The diplomat highlighted Georgia’s proud tradition of wine making, archaeologically validated to be the world’s oldest, dating back over 8,000 years. Traditional wine making in Georgia is done through a fermentation process in a Qvevri clay vessel dug deep underground. It was recognized as a World Intangible Heritage by UNESCO in 2013.

“I came to understand why Georgia is often shortlisted as a must-visit country,” said Rep. Yoo Seung-hee, chairwoman of the Georgia-Korea Interparliamentary Friendship Group, referring to her visit there in August. 

“Georgia is establishing itself as a regional trade and logistics hub, with opportunities to become one of the most competitive platforms connecting Europe and Asia. Bridging East and West requires strong collaboration between nations, and I am confident that Korea has become part of this collaborative scheme.”

Qvevri vessels are large earthenware used for the fermentation, storage and ageing of traditional Georgian wine. (Levan Totosashvili)

Analysts say Georgia’s geostrategic value is set to multiply with the launch of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway on Oct. 30 and the signing of the Lapis Lazuli Corridor Agreement with Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Turkey on Nov. 15. Through these two routes, the trade of goods from China and Afghanistan through the South Caucasus all the way to Europe is expected to be streamlined with significant reductions in time.

The government of Georgia has concentrated its efforts to make the country a regional business hub. It has called on Korean companies to plow capital into hydro energy, transport infrastructure, tourism, information and communication technology and e-government sectors.

“Despite the challenges my country faces currently, particularly from the ongoing occupation of our regions Abkhazia and South Ossetia by the Russian Federation and its attempts to annex them, Georgia firmly stands on its path of joining the European Union and contributing to the Euro-Atlantic integration,” underscored the ambassador.

“Our European dream has been supported by our people from the very first day of our independence. Having experienced difficulties in territorial and security issues, Georgia fully supports peace on the Korean Peninsula and strongly condemns North Korea’s nuclear and missile provocations.”

Nikoloz Apkhazava, the Georgian ambassador to Malaysia and former ambassador to Korea from 2012-17 (Georgian Embassy)

In a separate event, Nikoloz Apkhazava, the Georgian ambassador to Malaysia and former ambassador to Korea from 2012-17, was awarded the Gwanghwa Medal -- the Order of Diplomatic Service Merit -- by the Korean government on Dec. 7.

The medal is the Korean government’s highest national civilian honor granted exclusively to foreign politicians and diplomats for their “outstanding and meritorious” service in the promotion of friendly relations with the Republic of Korea. The ceremony took place at the Korean Embassy in Kuala Lumpur in the presence of Korean Ambassador to Malaysia Yu Hyun-seok.

By Joel Lee (