KUALA LUMPUR: Seoul may be touted as the “soul of Asia”, but it is Kuala Lumpur that has caught the eye of South Korea’s travellers, says its top diplomat here.
South Korean Ambassador Lee Chi-beom (pic) said the numbers were rising before the Covid-19 pandemic brought things to a halt, adding that 673,065 South Koreans visited Malaysia in 2019.
According to records, he said 409,254 Malaysians headed the other way with total travel breaching the one-million mark.
He said his countrymen loved to visit Malaysia to enjoy its beautiful nature and various cultures.
“Malaysia is one of the most popular tourist destinations for South Koreans. And many Malaysians also love Korean culture.
“Such mutual understanding and positive feelings towards our cultures can contribute to further developing our bilateral ties.
“I hope many more South Koreans will come and feel Malaysia’s attractiveness after Covid-19 eases, ” he said in an interview.
Lee, who served previously as Environment Minister in 2006, said with the pandemic continuing to rage, his government was making efforts to “secure” Malaysian businessmen’s activities in South Korea.
“If they can meet some requirements, Malaysian businessmen can enter and conduct their activities with quarantine exemptions, ” he said.
The envoy said the embassy was continuously asking the Malaysian government to implement a travel bubble or rapid entry process for officials and businessmen.
“When the Malaysian side is ready, a travel bubble can be implemented immediately, ” he said, adding that the South Korean government had already implemented a rapid entry process for officials and businessmen with China, Japan, Indonesia, Singapore and Vietnam.
On the Korean Wave, or “hallyu”, cultural phenomenon, Lee said K-pop and K-drama had a huge impact in Malaysia.
Hallyu, originally a Chinese term, refers to the global popularity of South Korea’s cultural exports of pop culture, entertainment, music, TV dramas and movies.
“First of all, I appreciate that many Malaysian friends have interest and love towards Korean culture. Some experts say that it is the solid and unique storyline and directing of K-drama which appeal to fans worldwide.
“Due to hallyu, Malaysians have become more familiar with Korea.
“More Malaysians are becoming interested not only in Korean cultural content but also in Korean language, K-food (hansik), Korean fashion and Korean make-up.
“As a result, the number of Malaysians who visit Korea has been increasing, ” he said.
On other aspects of his work since being posted here in November last year, the envoy said he had wanted to go full steam with 2020 marking the 60th anniversary of diplomatic ties between South Korea and Malaysia.
As it turned out, Lee said he “experienced the unprecedented Covid-19 crisis in Malaysia” instead.
“Most of all, I want to say thank you to the people and government of Malaysia.
“With their help, South Koreans are keeping well and safe in Malaysia.
“A few Koreans who were infected with Covid-19 here have recovered and are back to their usual routines, ” he said.
On the unstable environment in the Korean Peninsula, Lee praised Malaysia for its basic stance that the issue be resolved through dialogue.
“The Malaysian government has also reiterated consistently that it actively supports the Republic of Korea’s policies and efforts for advancement of the peace process, including denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula and peaceful resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue through negotiation and dialogue, ” he said.