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(News Focus) S. Korea, Vietnam celebrate 20 years of diplomatic ties
HANOI, Dec. 17 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and Vietnam, which were on opposing sides during the 1961-75 Vietnam War, are set to celebrate 20 years of diplomatic ties later this week with bilateral trade and people-to-people exchanges surging over the past two decades.

   As the two nations seek to strengthen their cooperative relationship that has been on a development track since the launch of formal talks on forging a bilateral free trade agreement in August this year, they need to address pending issues, including Vietnam's chronic trade deficit with South Korea, some analysts said.

   Seoul and Hanoi opened diplomatic relations in 1992 and they steadily eased their Cold War scars. South Korea fought with the U.S. against North Vietnam during the Vietnam War, which ended in victory for the communist North.


The bilateral relations were upgraded to a "strategic and cooperative partnership" during President Lee Myung-bak's state visit to Vietnam in 2010, expanding their ties into the fields of not only the economy but also national strategy-related fields, such as national defense and security.

   Last year, Vietnam agreed to seek greater nuclear energy cooperation with South Korea, paving the way for Korean companies to take part in a project to build nuclear power plants in energy-hungry Vietnam.

   South Korea and Vietnam have seen their trade volume rise sharply in recent years from US$9.68 billion in 2009 to $18.54 billion last year. In an effort to further boost trade, the two sides launched free trade negotiations, with the first round of talks held in September.

   On the front of people-to-people exchanges, the two nations have witnessed a steady increase of tourists traveling in both directions.

   In particular, Vietnamese people accounted for nearly one in four foreigners with South Korean marriage visas last year. According to the Justice Ministry, 35,355 Vietnamese nationals were married to South Koreans as of the end of last year.

   Despite growing ties in trade and people-to-people exchange, Vietnam has been worried about a widening trade deficit with South Korea, which it believes is undesirable for further development of bilateral relations and the prospect for concluding the free trade negotiations.

   In the first 10 months of this year, Vietnam suffered a trade deficit of US$8.2 billion with South Korea. Last year, Vietnam's trade deficit with South Korea stood at $8.4 billion.

   In an effort to balance the trade with Vietnam, the South Korean government sent a trade delegation of 114 companies to Hanoi in July this year, but it failed to yield fruitful outcomes.


Some analysts said South Korea needs to make efforts to increase its imports of agricultural goods from Vietnam.

   "Although it is burdensome because of the symbolic nature of opening up the agricultural market, it would be a rational choice to open up the market to Vietnam while expanding exports of other goods to Vietnam," said Kwon Kyeong-deok, a senior researcher at the Korea Trade and Investment Promotion Agency.

   Another pending issue is a growing number of illegal Vietnamese immigrant workers in South Korea.

   This year, South Korea decided to halt work visas for Vietnamese workers because of rampant illegal immigration. According to statistics from Seoul's Justice Ministry, some 75,000 Vietnamese people were working in South Korea and about 16,500 of them illegally canceled their labor contracts to work for other employers.

   South Korea has called on Vietnam to come up with measures to return the illegal immigrant workers but little progress has been made so far, Seoul officials said.