By David Jones

“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step” 

Traditional Korean proverb

When footballer Ki Sung-Yueng arrives at the Liberty Stadium this weekend to set the seal on his transfer from Glasgow Celtic to Swansea City, he’ll be completing a journey of far more than a thousand miles.

Gwangju, his native city, is almost six thousand miles from his new home.  This talented young sportsman may well be the most high profile symbol of the links between Wales and Korea, but he’s certainly not the only one.

The University of Wales Institute in Cardiff, which works alongside Wolfestone to help students gain valuable employment experience, also enjoys strong links with several Korean Universities, allowing young people from both countries to share in each others’ rich and diverse cultures.   And when Korean scientists made plans for a national ecological institute, they drew inspiration from the National Botanic Garden of Wales in Carmarthenshire.  A 2010 scientific visit to South Wales helped provide a platform for the “Eden Project of the South” in Seochon, designed to protect precious eco-systems.

Ki Sung-Yueng’s home city of Gwangju showcases the best of his country’s industry and culture.  The city has pioneered the use of solar energy for Korea, combining ethics and efficiency in a way that Wolfestone, a champion of eco-friendly trading, is delighted to see.  And Gwangju’s famous Culture Complex is home to art displays and musical performances from all over Asia.

The Welsh business community should take note that South Korea is a favoured destination for exporters of high quality plastics, chemicals and electronic equipment, and this is the perfect time to build relationships.  2011 saw the announcement of a free trade agreement between South Korea and the EU.  With no trade restrictions and a shared commitment to quality, our two countries have excellent grounds for partnership.  Wolfestone is proud to help clients localise their message through language and culture.  Our contact network stretches across all of Asia, and thriving cities such as Gwangju and Seoul are increasingly popular commercial targets.

As well as being the representative of a vibrant culture, Ki Sung-Yeung is of course a world class footballer.  His time in Glasgow has earned him honours including Scottish Cup Final Man of the Match and Korean Football Association Footballer of the Year, both for 2011. When he became available for transfer there was immediate interest from Liverpool and Queens Park Rangers.  Both have more money to spend than Swansea, and both can claim to be bigger clubs.  But are they better clubs?  Ask Ki Sung-Yeung.

Crossing the Severn Bridge will present no problems to a man born in the shadow of the far more intimidating dividing line between South and North Korea.  He can be assured of a very warm welcome when he crosses this particular border.

He could have gone to Liverpool.

He could have gone to London.

He’s coming to Swansea.

Good choice.

Welcome to Wales, Ki Sung-Yuen.  You’re going to like it here.

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  • Good for the match tomorrow!

  • Ian Hayter

    I saw that Scottish Cup final last year, and Ki scored a cracking goal & was best player on the field by a mile. He’s the real thing & we’re lucky to get him. If Korea’s economy performs like their footballers we should all be trading with them 🙂

  • Martin Geraghty

    If you want to talk seriously about trade and ecology David, then Korea along with Japan is looking interesting for research & development and proper commitment to renewable energy solutions. Is the WAG doing anything to build a bridge here?
    (PS have to agree this lad Ki can play alright)

  • Thanks for the comments guys. I do want to talk seriously about trade and ecology, Martin, and I agree that South Korea and Japan are standard bearers for environmentally friendly energy solutions in Asia. In Japan’s case that might have been forced upon them by Fukushima but I believe a trading partners’s presence at the table is more important than the chain of events that brings them there. The WAG in general and Edwina Hart in particular are spearheading excellent global work in 2012-13 and there’s an official Welsh trade mission to Japan just a few months away in November. I don’t know if there’s anything comparable in the pipeline for South Korea and if anyone has any information on that subject I’d appreciate them sharing it here.

  • Richard Hill

    Firstly as a Cardif supporter I’m duty bound to register my resentment at Swansea City’s current position and new signing. On a more serious notethough, is South Korea really where we should be focusing our attention? You’ve said enough times we should be “building with the BRICS” and leaving aside the wordplay there is more value in Brazil & China or in europe with Russia. Scattershot approach to exports isn’t going to help us.

  • Hi Richard

    Resentment duly noted, and for what it’s worth I wish Cardiff City all the best for the season. (Come on you Reds!!!)

    Yes, I have used these pages to discuss developing our links with emerging powerhouses such as China, Brazil and Russia, and I’ll continue to do so. I don’t see those relationships and other potential links with Asian tigers as mutually exclusive. Why should they be? South Korea is among the worlds top 20 importers and exporters, and if we have economic and ethical interests in common we should pursue them. Closer to home, we have good friendships within the EU that should be maintained, regardless of the lure of the BRICS. Latvia, for example, was the first EU member state to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with Wales, acknowledging our shared cultural and economic interests and laying the foundation for a trade partnership that could still be very good news for both countries. Why not build on our existing understandings with, say, Germany or Latvia while developing links with China, Brazil or South Korea? I’d be interested in trade missions or events linking Wales with any of these countries, and I’d hope to see others take a similar view.

  • Adele Marinescu

    Excuse me Richard Hill, is it your argument that your country should only pursue trade with larger economies? Is this how you should also run an individual business, so that you have one big client and ignore smaller but good relationships and when the one big client says goodbye you are left with zero revenue? I do not run a business this way. There has been mention of Latvia and this arises an instructive situation which involves Latvia and Romania. One month ago I was invited to a meeting with regard to export trade for the United States, Latvia and Romania for aviation equipment. You may be surprised that it was NOT Latvia and Romania who were exporting but the USA, seeking export oportunities with these small countries! The USA government organised this event for the benefit of its industry. I do not always agree with USA government policy but if they believe it is worth organising such things then perhaps others should also consider trade with such countries?

  • Martin Geraghty

    We’ve bracketed South Korea with Japan – naturally enough – but the biggest problem tradewise for South Korea right now might be Japanese antagonism. Not been a great weekend for that particular relationship.

  • Andy Taurins

    A general comment about ‘marketing’: it’s often said that 50% of the marketing budget is wasted – but we don’t know which 50% – and whether indeed it is wasted in the long run. There is in my experience much to be said for the scattergun approach – if nothing else it builds and reinforces brand awareness! On another topic in relation to an earlier comment about WG, how sad that NAW has disbanded its European and External Affairs Committee where the former Chair, Sandy Mewies AM was such a great supporter of so many links with the non-BRICS with whom Wales has so much in common eg Poland, Romania, Latvia etc. For Wales to be pursuing the world’s A-listers for export is commendable but we are all aware that everyone else is also pitching there and that China is heading for a hard landing whereas Latvia (much closer to Wales!) has just posted 5.1% GDP year-on-year growth and is very much open to business opportunities. The English language is widely spoken in Latvia and the Welsh and Latvians share very many common values – including love of football!

  • Cathy Marriott

    I’m not the least bit interested in football so I wasn’t planning to make any comment this week but I have to agree with Andy Taurins. I went to a trade fair in Riga in 2010 and found Latvians to be excellent hosts and subsequently hard working and honourable partners. This is not the kind of nation-to-nation relationship that should be disregarded or put on the back burner while we chase the so called bigger prizes.

  • Richard Hill

    I take on board the comments – when I talked about scattershot export sales I was thinking more of businesses that have a stab at markets here and there when they should be focusing on their goals and sticking to their guns. I dont think I expressed that particularly well and I fully accept that countries such as Latvia or Romania are potential partners with a lot to offer. Particularly for the european countries if we have something in common with these people culturally and we have a basis for doing business, let’s do some business.

  • Laura Sapate

    Reading about Ki Sung – Yeng`s experience and choice, coming to Wales from a very powerful country, and choosing my internship under the Erasmus grant in Swansea, it made me think about the similarities between Latvia and Wales. A Latvian always used to be a traveller, who liked to share his experiences in different areas and countries and who wanted to be everywhere in the world and to take part in global events. It`s said in a recent Latvian bestseller by Otto Ozols that „Latvians are everywhere” and it`s no secret a lot of them are in the United Kingdom and Wales. So the bond of friendship started many years ago and it has spread to many areas. What are the particular things that we have in common? First of all I would say – culture, sports, education, music. But apart from the cultural life there are also strong business partnerships. As a new and developing country we need the support and experience from a country by our side, but we also have a lot of things to offer. I think the benefits of contemporary globalization and migration in this case is obvious to see.

  • It’s interesting when a discussion starts in one direction then morphs into something completely different. I agree with those who’ve noted that South Korea would make an interesting trade partner and I certainly agree with those who’ve pointed out that Latvia is already a partner to Wales, and one that we should value and nurture. My personal experience of Latvia and Latvians is completely positive, and Laura’s point about the cultural bonds between our people is very well made. Economically I can’t help but be impressed by a country that’s “taken its medicine” in terms of public spending and is now emerging with stability and growth. I’d be interested in any initiatives designed to promote co-operation between our countries.

  • Karsten Koehring

    You have a problem with Ki Sung Yeung. Swansea play so well against West Ham where is he going to play?

  • Great article! I really enjoyed reading about this and I am hoping to read more from you about co-operation and issues between our countries and sports.

  • I am happy that this athlete makes his reputation in the UK. Bravo.

  • Max Davis

    Hate to burst your bubble David but since Ki pulled on the shirt Swansea haven’t won a game 🙁
    Joking aside, good article. The multinational premiership opening more doors for multiculturalism every time a new player comes to this country. All to the good.