President of the Republic of Korea Lee Myung-bak’s visit to Vietnam promises to quicken the pace of solidifying high-level, wide-ranging contacts between the two countries.

RoK President Lee will begin his official three-day visit to Vietnam on October 20, which is his first visit to the Southeast Asian country since he took office in February 2008 and is the fourth made by an RoK President to Vietnam .

Since diplomatic ties were established in December 1992, Vietnam and the RoK have maintained the exchange of high-level contacts on a regular basis. In 2001, they agreed to elevate their bilateral relationship to a “Comprehensive Partnership in the 21st Century”.

In a bid to further cooperation, the two Prime Ministers in May 2009 reached a consensus on taking the next step, raising relations to the level of a “Strategic Cooperative Partnership”. The RoK has shown its support for Vietnam ’s open-door policy and reforms and the two countries have coordinated their efforts successfully at international and regional forums and organisations.

At present, the RoK has emerged as one of Vietnam’s leading economic partners with about 20 billion USD in direct investment poured into Vietnam as of July 2009, making it second among all among foreign direct investors in the country.

Recently, RoK investment in Vietnam has been steered to focus on large-scale projects in the services sector and heavy industries, including metallurgy and construction, as well as information technology. The Posco group has, for example, engaged in both metallurgy and urban construction in the country.

The RoK is Vietnam ’s fourth largest trading partner, with two-way trade hitting a record high of close to 10 billion USD in 2008, representing a surge of 35 percent from 2007.

Vietnam exports mostly farm and forestry products, aquatic goods, minerals, handicraft items and light industry products to the RoK and imports mainly input materials for its industrial production and for export processing industries.

In the field of ODA, the RoK continues prioritising its grants to Vietnam. In 2006, the RoK government decided on an annual sum of 100 million USD per annum and 9.5 million USD in non-refundable aid for Vietnam in the 2006-2009 period.

At the Consultative Group Meeting for Vietnam in 2007, the RoK pledged 286 million USD to Vietnam in 2008, a 2.5 fold rise from 2007, making it Vietnam’s second largest ODA provider.

Last August, the two countries inked a framework agreement regarding the RoK’s provision of 1 billion USD via a loan through the Economic Development Cooperation Fund (EDCF) for the 2008-2011 period, making Vietnam the largest recipient of RoK development assistance. Between 1991-2008, the RoK provided 745 million USD in ODA and 79.4 million USD in non-refundable aid to Vietnam .

In efforts to facilitate wide-ranging cooperation, the two countries inked a series of important agreements that cover such fields as investment, trade, monetary assistance, culture, customs, transportation, tourism and justice.

Under a new agreement signed in May 2004 relating to the export of Vietnamese workers to the RoK, in line with the host country’s EPS law, the RoK has so far employed 55,000 Vietnamese workers, making it the third largest importer of Vietnamese labour at present.

In recent years, more RoK vacationers have chosen Vietnam, with 450,000 arrivals in 2008 and 260,000 in the past eight months of 2009.

Culture and education is also a bright spot in the two countries’ cooperation.

In 2006, the RoK set up a Korean Cultural Centre in Hanoi while its government, universities, organisations and foundations like the Korea Foundation and Samsung Kumho have engaged in the building of primary and vocational training schools and the granting of scholarships to students with difficulties in Vietnam . At present, 5,000 Vietnamese students are studying in the RoK.

The Vietnamese Ministry of Education and Training has chosen the RoK as an informational strategic partner in the area of education and training./.