Your Excellency, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to thank the two chambers for organising today’s meeting. I am grateful to the President of the Republic of Korea for our talks today. I asked His Excellency the same question that you would have asked if you had been there: What should we expect over the next ten years? And I am grateful for the very enlightening answers we received.
Ladies and Gentlemen.
For Hungarians Korea is a mysterious country. It is difficult to comprehend how a country that fifty years ago was one of the poorest in the world could now boast the world’s 12th largest GDP. The truth is that when communism was demolished, in 1990, we too hoped to find such a path for ourselves. Thirty years later I am not sure that we have found that path; but Korea’s performance in recent decades fills us with admiration.
Here today in the company of many Hungarians, I would like to stress that in the political life of our two countries a sense of kinship continues to be a dominant theme. We see His Excellency’s visit to us now as essentially an expression of this kinship. You are all aware of the Asian origins of the Hungarians; but fewer people know that the past few years have seen the publication in Korea of 94 books which are concerned – either fully or in part – with Hungarian-Korean kinship relations. Both languages are agglutinative, so the reason that our Czech, Slovak and Polish friends here do not understand Hungarian is precisely the same reason that they do not understand Korean. And a little-known fact worth mentioning is that we know who composed the Korean national anthem, because he graduated from the Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest, and was a student of Zoltán Kodály. This is another story that we like to recount.
Your Excellency, Ladies and Gentlemen,
In 2010 Hungary was effectively bankrupt. It was then that we won the election. We tend to win elections in such situations; but when things are going well, Hungarian citizens feel less dependent on us. I clearly remember that my first request to our strategic advisers was to look at some success stories, so that we could determine what path we should take after 2010. I remember we asked them to look at Singapore, at Korea, at the Czech Republic and at Poland. And I remember the conversations we had at the time – I even have my old notes, in which I wrote down what in 2010 we needed to learn from the Koreans in order to find a way out of the bankruptcy we were in at that time. Those notes said that we needed to combine tradition and technology. They also stated that family is not just important: family is everything, and we will not have a strong economy until we have strong families. The third thing I wrote then was that we needed to create a work-based economy, in which people are continuously learning. Back then I also wrote the following: we needed strong national consciousness expressed through self-confidence; we needed to exploit our regional logistical attributes; and we needed to have a vision. The seventh point was that we needed to plan over a long period, to plan for the long term. In 2010 these were the things that we tried to learn from Korea’s success and turn to our advantage.
Ladies and Gentlemen.
From 2010 to 2021 we have come quite a long way, and you can see that we have tried to follow all seven Korean recipes for success – or the Hungarian versions of them. This is the past. As for the present, we can all see a new world order emerging before our eyes. This is true in political, economic and technological terms. Although it is not easy for Westerners to admit it, we also see that the pace of change in the world economy is being dictated by the East, and that the biggest investments in industries undergoing revolutionary renewal are coming from the East. Increasingly the standard for competitiveness in the modern global economy is being set for us by Asian countries and large corporations.
Obviously we are in a different category, but, Your Excellency, I have found an international indicator according to which we are both in the top ten – with you in third place and us in tenth place. This is the Economic Complexity Index, which measures how many sources and industrial sectors contribute to the GDP of any given country. We are delighted that Hungary is in the top ten, as are the Czechs. So two of the V4 countries are in the top ten, and Korea is in third place; this shows that opportunities are not limited to two or three industries, but that the economies of V4 countries offer a very broad range of opportunities to the Korean business community.
As far as economic relations between Hungary and Korea are concerned, in the last ten years our volume of trade has increased tenfold. Even during the pandemic it broke previous records: even though there was a pandemic, the expansion did not slow down. And this year, in 2021, the trade volume will exceed that of last year: last year it was 4.5 billion, and we expect it to be even more this year. What also amazes us – and this isn’t fully comprehensible to the Hungarian mind – is how a country of 51 million people can not only have a high GDP, but can also play a formative and strategic role in the development of the world’s cutting-edge technologies. We do not yet understand exactly how this has come about, but perhaps we will understand it as a side effect and as a result of cooperation. Koreans constitute the fourth largest investment community in Hungary, and in 2019 the highest number of inward investments in Hungary came not from a Western country, but from Korea – so your country is part of a phenomenon that previously was completely unknown. This is something that has never before happened in Hungary’s economic history. We have always wanted to catch up economically with the West, and so Western investors have always been the dominant investors; but in 2019 the biggest investor was Korea. And that will not be the last year in which this happens, because at the moment Korean corporate investment in Hungary amounts to 4 billion dollars. So at the moment, as we speak, there is 4 billion dollars of investment under way, and the launch of sixteen further Korean investment projects are being negotiated.
I can inform you that today His Excellency and I have agreed to take the already warm, positive and friendly relations between our two countries to the next level. We classify this as a strategic relationship and a strategic level, and we will extend it beyond the economy to science, research and education. We will start negotiations on the creation in Budapest of a prestigious, large Korean university campus.
Finally, Ladies and Gentlemen, when talking to Korean businesspeople we must of course also say a few words about what is happening in Europe today. This is because the value of the Hungarians and of the V4 is also significantly increased by the fact that we are part of a huge market of 446 million people. So anyone who comes to us has also arrived in the market of the European Union. What happens to our Europe is important. Today I was able to tell His Excellency – and I can tell you – that today Europe is convulsed with pain. Over the past ten years or so we have lost our competitiveness – we have lost it in the economy, we have lost it in efficiency, we are racked with demographic problems and we have to struggle with security problems. The whole of Europe – including us – is occupied with a single question: that of how our European Union can regain the competitiveness that it had before the financial crisis of 2008. Of course no one can answer this question on their own, but one thing is certain: in Europe we cannot regain our competitiveness with economic policy that fails to focus on increasing efficiency. This means digitalisation, this means the green economy, this means tax cuts, and this definitely means even more open trade policy. Therefore we shall always support these European Union aspirations. But we do not support protectionist concepts, we do not support tax increases, and we cannot support socialistic notions either; because in the coming years the biggest question will be how our shared Europe can regain its economic competitiveness. In this – in finding the answer to this question – Korea is our friend, and Korea will assist us. I am certain that in terms of relations between Korea and the European Union, between Korea and the V4 and between Korea and Hungary, the broader and deeper the cooperation, the sooner the entire continent will regain its economic competitiveness in the world economy.
With a heart filled with gratitude, I once again thank His Excellency for honouring us Hungarians with his visit. Tomorrow we await the prime ministers of the other three Visegrád countries, so that within the framework of the V4 we can continue the discussions we have started today. I wish the Korean and Hungarian business communities every success. May they bring even more investors from Korea, may they profit, and may they continue to build on the friendship between our two peoples, between Koreans and Hungarians. This friendship has a long and beautiful history: let us not forget that next year Hungary and Korea will be celebrating the 130th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between our two countries. Hungary established relations with Korea in 1892. And here I would also like to mention that in 1989, when communism here was already on its deathbed, Hungary – still then a socialist country – was the first country in Central Europe to establish official diplomatic relations with South Korea. It is therefore only fitting for the V4–South Korea summit to be held in Budapest.
Your Excellency, thank you for honouring us with your presence.
Photo credit: MTI