Normative aspect: A-
Final mark: A-
Czech diplomacy successfully capitalised on the impetus provided by its strategic partnership with Seoul and the downstream action plan of December 2015. Although relations with South Korea are weighted – and will continue to be weighted – in favour of the economic sphere, the implementation of the action plan has also made it possible to step up cooperation in the political, security, scientific, educational, and cultural areas. Even so, the Czech Republic still has no clearly defined long-term interests and priorities that it would like to champion in its relations with South Korea.
In 2016, Czech-Korean relations were shaped, in particular, by continued economic cooperation and the spillover of cooperation into sectors that had been previously rather overlooked, such as the defence industry and cybersecurity. On the other hand, despite both parties’ declared efforts, joint activity in nuclear energy has not intensified.
In terms of economic relations, activities to encourage incoming South Korean investments can be hailed as a long-term success. An important role in these efforts was played by CzechInvest’s branch in Seoul, which monitored five new investment projects by South Korean companies in the Czech Republic in 2016 (the highest number since 2006). Conversely, even with the backing of active economic diplomacy, Czech exporters have been unable to fully seize the opportunities presented to them in the past three years by the gradual elimination of customs duties on entering the South Korean market. Although Czech exports have risen sixfold over the past decade, they have actually stagnated in the last three years. Efforts to increase Czech exports have met with limited success.
On the strength of specific steps in the implementation of the action plan, cooperation between both countries has spread into new areas, including the defence industry, arms control, and cybersecurity. This helped overcoming one of the limits of the Czech Republic’s approach to South Korea, specifically its excessive reliance on economic cooperation to the detriment of other areas. Cooperation between the Visegrad Group and Korea followed a similar path, which just like bilateral Czech-South Korean relations, expanded into the scientific, military, and infrastructure sphere in 2016.
In addition, the implementation of the action plan lifted relations between Prague and Seoul from a declarative to a sectoral level. This means that further development was not overseen solely by primary Czech foreign-policy players, but that cooperation also spread to a lower working level and into the public and non-government sector. These stakeholders have their own – generally professionally motivated – interest in deepening relations, which is particularly evident in cooperation at regional level and in the scientific and educational sector.
In contrast, cooperation has stalled in the field of nuclear energy, even though both sides view this as a crucial area. However, South Korea’s proactive approach is evident here, as it lobbies the Czech side on behalf of the interests of its companies. A similar course of action should be taken in mutual relations by the Czech Republic, which continues to enjoy long-term interest in cooperation among South Korean partners.