[COVID-19 Special] Interview With H.E. Dinara Kemelova, Ambassador of the Kyrgyz Republic to the Republic of Korea
First of all, I would like to express my gratitude for the opportunity to introduce my country, the Kyrgyz Republic, to Asia Society’s readers.
During these serious times with the spread of the coronavirus, I hope that you are all in good health and believe that humanity will be able to overcome this pandemic in the near future. I think that because of the announced campaign about social distancing, people should read more and spend useful and enjoyable time with their family and loved ones.
Let me briefly talk about my country, which is not very familiar to the majority of South Koreans. Like a fairytale, beckoning with its natural beauty, the Kyrgyz Republic is located in Central Asia. After the collapse of the USSR and its independence in 1991, Kyrgyzstan has developed dynamically. The territory of our country is 199.9 thousand km2, which is two times larger than the territory of South Korea.
The people of Kyrgyzstan have a rich history, unique culture, and many interesting traditions. Located along the route of the Great Silk Road, Kyrgyzstan still carefully preserves its unique ancient monuments. When organically combined with our modern buildings, they are able to give unforgettable impressions to foreign guests. The people of Kyrgyzstan are multinational and more than 100 ethnic groups live in our country, including ethnic Koreans. Thanks to its majestic mountains, Kyrgyzstan is considered a land with a rich variety of flora and fauna featuring the largest glaciers on the planet and clean mountain rivers. One of the main "celebrities" is Issyk-Kul Lake, which is called the pearl of Central Asia. It is included in the list of the 30 largest lakes in the world and is considered to be one of the deepest lakes as well.
On March 21st, our country celebrated “Nowruz”, the main spring holiday and the day of the vernal equinox that marks the beginning of a new year and has been celebrated since ancient times. On this day, people put their houses in order and the family table is covered with national dishes.
At the state level, the holiday is accompanied by festivals, traditional games, concerts, and national treats. Unfortunately, due to fears about the spread of the coronavirus, we had to all cancel the events this year and people celebrated at home with their families.
1. How is the Embassy dealing with the situation around the coronavirus?
The Embassy is directly witnessing the efforts the South Korean government is taking to combat the coronavirus. We see how doctors and relevant South Korean services are selflessly working to prevent the virus from spreading around the country. And nowadays we can see the great progress in South Korea is making while fighting COVID-19, which could also be considered a best practice.
As you know, the COVID-19 pandemic does not care about nationality and borders. As this has become a global pandemic, close international cooperation is needed to overcome the crisis in connection with COVID-19. This is a serious test for all of humanity.
In this regard, our Embassy, along with other foreign Embassies accredited in the Republic of Korea, is complying with all of the recommendations by the Government of South Korea and local authorities in order to avoid additional infections. Moreover, we are conducting active outreach to the more than 6000 Kyrgyz citizens who temporarily or permanently reside in South Korea. We urge them to pay close attention to their personal hygiene, refrain from visiting crowded places, and observe social distancing. We also recommend that if they show the slightest symptoms of the virus, immediately contact the Embassy or seek help from medical facilities in South Korea.
2. What impact did the coronavirus outbreak have in your country?
Unfortunately, COVID-19 did not bypass our country. On March 19, 2020, three positive cases of infection were identified among Kyrgyz citizens who returned from Saudi Arabia. Kyrgyzstan, like many other countries in the world, is fighting the coronavirus by testing, observing, and strengthening entry controls. In order to ensure the health and safety of our people, the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic is taking all possible measures. Being in the center of the Eurasian continent, and needing to stop the spread of the virus in our region, predetermined measures have been taken to temporarily close Kyrgyzstan’s borders.
In this regard, mutual understanding between governmental bodies and the public is considered to be very important. Each citizen has a great responsibility and must attach great importance and value to his/her health, as well as the health of their family and the entire population of Kyrgyzstan.
We very much hope that very soon the world community, including Kyrgyzstan and South Korea, will overcome this pandemic and return to our normal lives.
3. What views/lessons have been learned from Asia (Public health? What worked? What did not work?)
The unique experience of the Republic of Korea in combating and furthering the non-proliferation of the coronavirus using the latest technologies and advanced diagnostic capabilities is exemplary. Thanks to the coordinated work of government bodies and the population, the Government of South Korea has been able to stop the further spread of the coronavirus throughout the country and minimize the number of infected patients, thereby increasing the number of fully recovered citizens every day. At the same time, I express my deep condolences and words of support to the relatives of the deceased whose lives the coronavirus took. It is noteworthy that, unlike other countries, South Korea did not introduce a ban on the entry of foreign citizens, but introduced a special quarantine procedure using new technologies, such as a mobile application and remote monitoring of the state of people who arrived from abroad.
Particularly noteworthy are the efforts of the Government of South Korea to minimize the economic consequences of coronavirus. In this regard, the executive and legislative branches of the country were united, especially in allocating an additional budget. As in South Korea, the economy of the Kyrgyz Republic, and in general the social life of the inhabitants, were severely affected. Therefore, we are observing all of the measures taken by the Government of South Korea to combat the pandemic and believe they can serve as a good example for many countries around the world.
We also see the enormous financial resources spent on combating this pandemic and supporting citizens and companies affected by this scourge. My country, as a developing country, hopes that South Korea, having overcome all the difficulties in combating coronavirus, will be able to share its experience and provide technical assistance in the field of health care in the Kyrgyz Republic, which we need to improve.
4. What initiatives do you plan to build with Korea when this crisis ends?
Despite the geographical distance, the Kyrgyz Republic and the Republic of Korea are united by the historical roots of the peoples of the two countries as well as the common goal of the development of democracy and parliamentarism. Kyrgyzstan sees South Korea as one of its priority partners in the Asian region. The Kyrgyz side attaches great importance to the continuation of political dialogue between the two countries. In this regard, to overcome the challenges of the coronavirus, we are interested in organizing high-level mutual visits to expand our political cooperation. Our plans also include intensifying trade and economic cooperation, increasing the volume of trade between our countries, and attracting Korean investments in various infrastructure sectors of the Kyrgyz economy. Cultural and humanitarian ties and the promotion of educational projects are important areas of Kyrgyz-Korean cooperation.
Another important area is the development of tourism in the Kyrgyz Republic by increasing the number of tourists from South Korea to Kyrgyzstan. We intend to continue promoting the tourism potential of Kyrgyzstan, which is often called second Switzerland in Central Asia because of our celestial mountains covered with glaciers. Therefore, we intend to take part in major tourism exhibitions and events held in South Korea. It is regrettable that some of the meetings and international events that were supposed to take place in South Korea were rescheduled or completely canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak. I hope that the situation will soon be resolved and we will be able to quickly catch up. In conclusion, I would like to take this opportunity to wish your readers good health, success, prosperity, and stamina, especially in this period when the whole world is fighting the coronavirus together.
About H.E. Dinara Kemelova, Ambassador of the Kyrgyz Republic to the Republic of Korea