“I fell in love with Prague at first sight”
The capital city of Korea, Seoul, is the fifth biggest metropolis in the world, with a population roughly the same size as the entire Czech Republic. The experience of living in Prague must be very different, and the Korean Ambassador Mr. Tae-jin Kim explains that for him it was love at first sight. Why does he consider his posting in our country the biggest adventure of his career? What will happen to the Korean Embassy in Prague this September? And did you know that Korea is the third largest investor in our country?
Can you please tell us a bit about yourself?
I can describe myself as a career diplomat, with a little over 30 years of experience. I have also studied international relations for my Bachelor’s and Masters degrees, so I may say that I have devoted quite a portion of my life to this profession.
But, more importantly, I am a proud father of two engineers, and a happy husband celebrating 30 years of marriage this year.
You have been in Prague for almost three years. What are your impressions of it?
I arrived in Prague in late 2019. My first impression of Prague can be explained as ‘friendly’ and ‘mesmerizing.’ At Prague airport, where you take your first steps into the Czech Republic, the signs are written in four languages: Czech, English, Russian, and Korean. This representative case shows how close and connected we are.
Besides, as every Korean would feel, I also fell in love with Prague at first sight. I especially love the view of Prague Castle from the waterfront of the Vltava River. I think it has the most exotic and beautiful scenery in the entirety of Europe. It differs by the season, time, and atmosphere, making it always refreshing and exciting to visit.
Does being an ambassador fit your personal lifestyle?
I would not say I am a naturally born ambassador because I am not really an extroverted person. However, my counterparts and fellow ambassadors have made my job much easier and more enjoyable. Czech officials tend to be very open-minded and pragmatic. They are keen on discussions and meetings, a fundamental business in diplomacy. Meanwhile, we have such friendly international diplomatic corps representing our country.
The ambassadors gather regularly, and we always share information as transparently as possible. I learned a lot from my fellow Korean ambassadors, who have experience (serving) in other European countries.
Moreover, the close partnership between Korea and the Czech Republic makes my ambassadorship relentless. The two countries celebrated 30 years of diplomatic ties in 2020, but their relationship is really intense and broad considering the rather short time span. Last but not least, I must admit that being an ambassador of a favoured nation helps too.
You have been serving your country for 30 years. What has been your biggest adventure so far?
Before being appointed as the Ambassador to the Czech Republic, I was the Director-General for North American affairs, where I dealt with one of the most crucial tasks of Korean diplomacy. Previously, I was posted to the USA, Indonesia, Japan, and Afghanistan – which all had great adventures.
However, I see the Czech Republic as my best and most incredible adventure so far in my diplomatic life. Let me explain the reasons. First, because this is the first time I have served in a country as an ambassador with infinite responsibility. Second, it is also my first posting in a European country, which is very different in many ways from the places I have been to before. I am especially enjoying its significant cultural assets, and its unique international solidarity based on the Schengen Agreement.
Above all, the Czech Republic itself has made my journey here adventurous. From Korean investments to peopleto-people exchanges, we have many pending issues that keep my life busy and challenging. Moreover, the country is so dynamic and diverse. I am trying my best to visit all parts of the Czech Republic, and every time it surprises me with new and unique things.
Korea is an industrial power. Can you tell us more about our cooperation in this sphere?
Korea established diplomatic relations with the Czech Republic in 1990. The two countries agreed to level up their relationship to a ‘strategic partnership’ in 2015. It was the first time that the Czech Republic had such a relationship with an Asian country. Trade volume between the two countries increased from about 82 million USD in 1993 to around 4 billion USD in 2021.
Moreover, as Prime Minister Fiala recently mentioned, Korea is the third largest investor in the Czech Republic, after Germany and the United States.
Korean companies investing in the Czech Republic are at the essence of this relationship. We have over 10 manufacturing companies and over 100 Korean companies doing business here. The representative manufacturers are Hyundai Motors in the Moravia-Silesia region, and Nexen Tire in Ústí region. Doosan Škoda Power, a joint venture of Doosan and Škoda, is an excellent example of a Korea-Czechia business relationship. These Korean companies are beneficial to the Czech community by creating employment, paying taxes, and taking social responsibility.
What is, for you, the most challenging part of your ambassadorial role in our country?
As an ambassador, I represent my nation and government. At the same time, however, I am responsible for every aspect of the embassy as I am also the head of the organization. Therefore, many administrative duties and responsibilities fall onto me, from maintaining our facilities well to managing human resources.
In the particular case of the Korean Embassy here in Prague, we have been building our new embassy chancellery for the past three years. Previously, I did not have any experience related to architecture or building, so I needed to study hard in order to be responsible for this building construction. As the COVID-19 pandemic struck right after the property’s groundbreaking, we have also had a very challenging situation. After all these hardships, I am happy to share with the readers that our new embassy chancellary is officially opening this September, at Pelléova Street, Prague 6.
Considering all your responsibilities, do you manage to find any free time?
Of course, my wife and I love to stroll around the city of Prague. We do see living here as a privilege. We especially like to walk at dawn or at night, to enjoy Prague in tranquillity.
Also, as borders were closed for the last two years due to COVID-19, we tried to visit as many Czech cities as possible. I have been to all three historical regions; Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia. The country has many great places that Korean tourists have yet to discover.
As the Korean Ambassador, I always recommend that Korean visitors travel not only to the capital city but also to visit the spectacular nature and beautiful cities of the Czech Republic.
What would you like to point out to conclude this interview?
As the first strategic partner to the Czech Republic in Asia, Korea has proven to be a great friend and partner for over 30 years. However, after working as the Korean Ambassador for the past three years, I strongly feel the two countries’ relationship arrived at a critical juncture. Korea can either remain a good friend and business partner as it is right now, or we can surely upgrade our relationship to another level.
In this regard, Korea will submit its bid for the Dukovany Nuclear Power Plant project in November. For this moment, the KHNP (Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power) has been actively cooperating with both central and regional governments and societies. As our successful partnership with the UAE in building the Barakah Nuclear Power Plant shows, the Dukovany project will be an excellent catalyst for upgrading bilateral relations, in not only the field of energy but also industry, investment, defence, and many more.
Text: Martina Hošková and M. Zisso; Photo: Archive