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An Interview With France’s Ambassador

Posted January. 06, 2006 03:23,   


“Before I came to Korea, I wondered where Korea’s dynamism came from. I got the impression that Korea’s dynamism came from its tradition when I visited the National Museum of Korea.”

Philippe Thiébaud, French ambassador to Korea, spoke with a passion for learning. The 51-year-old ambassador said, “I think Korea has what Europeans lack, which is the power to combine tradition and beauty.”

This year marks 120th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Korea and France. On January 5, this reporter met the ambassador at his office at the French Embassy in Hap-dong, Seodaemun-gu, Seoul. It was the first time he gave an interview with a Korean newspaper since his inauguration last October

-How are plans for the 120th anniversary ceremony going?

“The ceremony for the 120th anniversary of Korea-France amity was decided at a summit meeting held when President Roh Moo-hyun visited Paris in 2004. Over the past year, France has been preparing for the event in concert with Korea. Concerts will be put on featuring the famous conductor Jung Myung-hoon in Korea and France. “French Week of Science” events will be held in Korea in May and June, and “Korean Week of Science” events will be organized in France in September. We are preparing for various cultural events and masterpieces displayed in the Louvre to come to Korea for exhibition.”

Thiébaud explained that the slogan of France is “Cor´ee au Coeur,” which means, “Korea in our heart.” The preparatory committee said the slogan in Korea’s part is “Aja! France.” Aja means “go for it!” in Korean. They decided to use the Korean term “Aja! France.” I was curious and asked “how will you respond when French people ask about the meaning of the slogan?” The answer was simple. “I will explain that it means ‘Allez la France.’”

-France reminds Koreans of songs, Beaujolais Nouveau wine, New Wave movies, and Christian Dior. That image hasn’t changed much.

“These are positive images, but I hope that those images diversify considering the development of relations between the two countries. French technology was used in the KTX bullet train, the Airbus jets Koreans use, the rocket Arian that propels Korean satellites, and the Eurocopter that won the contract for the Korea Helicopter Project. Korea and France need to broaden their range of cooperation beyond cultural areas to high-tech, like bioengineering and cosmonautics. This is what a future-oriented comprehensive partnership really means, and what was stressed at the 2004 summit talks.

-What do you think about Koreans’ decreasing interest in things French?

“The downward movement has slowed since 2000. On average, 9,000 to 10,000 students learn French every year in Korean colleges, which is not a small number. Aside from college courses, a growing number of Koreans learn French at private institutes like Alliance Française. Koreans learn French not just for the sake of learning a foreign language, but also to acquire a language to study as their major, which is a positive phenomenon. Last year, we had the first academic fair for schools abroad introducing the Grandes L‘Ecoles, higher education institutes, and people showed great interest. We will hold a second fair this May.”

-What kinds of images do you have about Korea?

“I can’t say that I know much about Korea because I have only been in Korea several times on business before my appointment. As a French outsider, I consider Korea to be a country that developed swiftly in just 30 to 40 years. I believe Korea is dynamic. The only word I learned before I came to Korea was ‘pali-pali’ which means ‘hurry up,’ which I consider an aspect of Korean dynamism.

Thiébaud graduated from ENA, the French National School of Public Administration, in 1980, where senior state officials are trained. He went to IEP, an institute for learning politics, and worked as first secretary at the French embassy in Mexico in 1982 where he started his diplomatic career. He worked for the delegations of the EU in Brussels and the UN in New York. Between 1999 and his inauguration as French ambassador to Korea, he was the representative of France to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“I do not know much about football, but I hope Korea and France, which are in the same group, make it to the World Cup finals,” said the Ambassador, who likes horseback riding and rugby.