South Korean Ambassador Jeon Jae Man speaks to Nation Multimedia Group Editor-in-Chief Thepchai Yong about the ferry tragedy near South Korea's Jindo Island and more. The following are excerpts:
I know this is a very difficult time for everyone in Korea. So what is the latest you have heard from Seoul concerning the rescue operation?
Our government and the people of Korea are making every effort to find the victims still surviving and we’re trying to take the ship out of the sea, while we’re supporting the bereaved families.
So the government is working very hard?
Yes, our prime minister went there two days ago and our president went there too and promised that the government will not spare any effort.
It is quite understandable why many people are angry, they think the operation is a bit slow.
Yes, at first there was some confusion, about reporting casualties, but now we’re making a concerted effort.
You know Thai people are quite fond of Korea in many respects – the culture and the tourist affection, and of course many Thais also visit Jeju Island every year. With this incident, what do you want to tell the Thai people – what kind of situation are you facing?
I was moved very much today to see many Thai friends writing prayers for Koreans in distress. And this is very good symbol showing the closeness between Korean people and Thai people. Many Thais are going to Korea. For example, last year the number of visits by Thai people to Korea was 370,000 people. This is quite a huge number for Korea and it ranks around fourth among foreign country visitors. And although this is a very unfortunate and tragic incident in Korea, we are confident that Koreans will get over this misfortune and Korea will be upgraded with lessons learned from this incident.
So you are saying that the issue of safety for tourists should not be a problem?
Yes, the safety code will be upgraded and we’ll pay more attention to the safety of Koreans, of course, including foreigners coming to Korea as tourists.
Touching on the bigger picture of Thai-Korean relations, how do you see the
present state of Thai-Korean relations?
I think the current status of Thai-Korean relations cannot be better. It’s at the highest point since there’re many visits at the highest level… From Korea, the official visit of the [Korean] president was made in the year 2012… The [last] official visit [by a Thai PM] was made two years ago.
And last year I could receive our prime minister who made a visit to Thailand [for the first time] in 19 years. As I told you the number of visitors to Korea and to Thailand has been increasing rapidly and in other parts, Korean mass culture is well received in Thailand. And there’re many dramas and so-called K Pop. And I came to know that there are K Pop cover dances and there’s an annual dance festival in Korea and the Thai team got the first prize consecutively for two years. That shows how well Korean culture is received in Thailand.
So why do you think K Pop is popular in Thailand? There must be something extraordinary about it.
I think the Korean musicians are very creative and Korean pop music is also well received in America and also in Europe. It’s amazing!