Direct Athens-Seoul flights: "26 million Koreans travel each year, this will be our gift to Greece," says South Korean official

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Chang-ho Yoo, deputy secretary of the President of South Korea, was in Greece and had a series of contacts with senior government officials, notably Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias and State Minister Giorgos Gerapetritis.

The visit came as part of the outward-looking diplomatic policy pursued by the country's new president and head of government, Yoon Suk-yeol, who was elected last spring. A new dynamic is emerging for the country while its contribution on a global level is also emerging.

The new South Korean government is making contacts with all friendly neighbouring countries. Chang-ho Yoo was tasked with exploring the areas in which the two countries can further cooperate.

A great discussion took place between the Greek side and the official envoy of the Korean President on tourism issues, and more specifically on the opening of a direct air connection between Seoul and Athens. Every year nearly 26 million Koreans travel abroad.

Also, Korea submitted its candidacy to organise the International Expo 2030 in the city of Busan with the theme "Transforming the world-Marching to the future" and wants the support of Greece, which is the world power in shipping.

Busan is the second largest city in Korea which is twinned with Thessaloniki. It is the shipping capital in South Korea.

"Last year we celebrated 60 years of relations between South Korea and Greece. South Korea and Greece have maintained very good relations," were Chang-ho Yoo's first words.

"But it all started earlier, in the 50s when Korea was at war. It was then a very poor country that was in great need of foreign aid. And Greece rushed to save us with more than 10,000 soldiers, 200 of whom lost their lives during the war.

"When Korea was in its darkest and most difficult time, Greece came to help and save it.

"The tears, sweat and blood that the Greeks shed in Korea were the seed for the economic development of Korea but more importantly for the survival of Korea and the protection of the country's freedom and democracy.

"This seed blossomed and together the relations of the two countries. It was as if from the ashes of the war a beautiful relationship was forged like a beautiful flower."

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The conversation turned to economic issues where Greece played a key role in the development of South Korea through shipping. The shipbuilding industry of the country is now the first power in the world and it owes this to the Greek shipowners.

South Korean shipyards deliver one vessel of Greek interests every week.

"Korea began to develop economically at a rapid pace. And one of the key sectors that decisively contributed to this development was its shipbuilding industry. The Korean shipbuilding industry is the first power in the world," Chang-ho Yoo emphasised:

"It is a huge industry that has its roots in Greece and the Greek shipowners who placed the first order for shipbuilding. With the guidance and know-how of the Greeks, Korea was able to develop this industry and develop it into the best industry in the world," he said.

"On this foundation the two countries look towards next 60 years to see how they will further develop this relationship and how they will move to the next level.

"At the moment thanks to the help and support of Greek orders and know-how to such an extent that Korean shipyards are responsible for building 70% of all the orders that Greece has.

"Korean shipyards build one ship for Greece every week. And now Korea is helping Greece to have its ships in all the seas of the world. In the past, Greece was a naval power in the seas around it, the Mediterranean, the Adriatic, the Black Sea. And today, thanks to Korea, it remains a maritime power.

"It is a beautiful story, a good example that describes the relations between Korea and Greece.

"We are grateful to the Greeks both for their military assistance at the time and for their support in the development of our shipbuilding industry."

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Chang-ho Yoo with the Korean ambassador to Greece Lee Jung Il.

Regarding the claim of the International Expo 2030 in the city of Busan with the theme "Transforming the world - March to the future" he said: "We have to look at it from two perspectives."

"One is that Greece is a country that fought for Korea. Korea and Greece actually fought together for Freedom and Democracy. The President of the country draws up a foreign policy in order to transform Korea into a state with a catalytic-important role worldwide through an integrated diplomacy.

"And the foundation of this policy is Freedom, Peace and Prosperity. These are the three pillars of Korea's foreign policy which, together with Greece, looks to the future.

"The relations between the two countries are not only limited to the level of economic cooperation, but also in areas such as politics, diplomacy, culture, security, defense armour, tourism. That's one aspect.

"Greece is the country of Democracy and Freedom. And Greece's gifts to the whole world are Democracy and Freedom. And to honor these two universal values, Greece traveled 12,000 miles to Korea to fight for them.

"Behind the 2030 world fair, the 'heart' is freedom and prosperity, progress and the continuation of history."

Closing the discussion, Chang-ho Yoo referred to the issue of a direct air connection between Seoul and Athens, which was raised repeatedly in the meetings he had and which he pledged to discuss with his government.

"In all the contacts that I had at a high government level one of the main topics that I was repeatedly asked was tourism and the development of relations between the two states in this area. A basic request is to open a direct air line between Seoul and Athens.

"When I return to Korea I will raise this issue with the government and we will look into it. It will be a gift to Greece. Consider that Korea's population is 52 million of which 26 million travel abroad each year."

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