The King's speech at the State Banquet for the Republic of Korea

Published

As our nations strive towards a harmony between progress and preservation, between the past and the present, we can look to the future with great confidence as our peoples forge ever closer links.

Mr President, Madame Kim Keon Hee,

It gives my wife and myself great pleasure to welcome you to Buckingham Palace this evening. Yeong-gug-e osin geos-eul hwan-yeonghabnida [Welcome to Britain]. As we mark the 140th anniversary of our two nations’ diplomatic relationship, your visit to the United Kingdom celebrates our remarkable partnership. It is a partnership in which close personal connections, fostered over many decades, have blossomed today into a real sense of affection, or jeong, between our societies at so many levels.

We also wonder at the remarkable journey your nation has taken in the span of a single lifetime - my lifetime, in fact.

From wartime devastation at the time of my early childhood, Koreans have created a miracle.

Even at the time of my last visit in 1992, that journey was clearly just beginning. The Republic of Korea’s drive and energy continued apace, and with it, the impact on British lives. From fridges and flatscreens to smartphones and semiconductors, it is clear that the model of industrial efficiency I glimpsed in Seoul thirty years ago has become the epitome of technological creativity today.

But it is probably artistic creativity which has brought about the most dramatic shift in Korea’s place in the British cultural landscape. Three decades ago, it would have been hard to imagine that the most popular exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 2023 would be Hallyu, showcasing the Korean Wave, or that Korea would become the fastest-growing modern language among those studied at British universities. Korea has matched Danny Boyle with Bong Joon-ho, James Bond with Squid Game, and the Beatles’ Let It Be with BTS’s Dynamite. Our cultures share a remarkable ability to captivate imaginations across the world, transforming a so-called soft power into a shared superpower. I fear, though, that I am unlikely ever to follow in King Sejong’s footsteps and create a whole new alphabet!

And within these decades of enormous change, I am truly heartened to see that the environment has not been forgotten, nor the importance of achieving a healthy balance between development and our natural heritage. The Republic of Korea, as one of very few countries which ended the twentieth century with more trees than at the century’s beginning, has always grasped this. And I am delighted to observe your firm commitment to investment in carbon-free technologies, civil nuclear and renewable energy, in close partnership with U.K. industrial and policy expertise in vital sectors such as offshore wind.

It is especially inspiring to see Korea’s younger generation embrace the cause. I applaud Jennie, Jisoo, Lisa and Rosé, better known collectively as BLACKPINK, for their role in bringing the message of environmental sustainability to a global audience as Ambassadors for the U.K.’s Presidency of COP 26, and later as advocates for the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. I can only admire how they can prioritise these vital issues, as well as being global superstars. Sadly, when I was in Seoul all those years ago, I am not sure I developed much of what might be called the Gangnam Style!

Your country’s concern for the natural environment is matched by an appreciation of your unique built environment. Thus, alongside striking pieces of modern architecture, and the innovative partnerships between British and Korean cities to make urban environments more liveable, it gives me great encouragement to know that older pieces of traditional Korean design and architecture have been saved from redevelopment before it is too late. And it would have pleased Her late Majesty The Queen I know, who was struck on Her State Visit to Korea in 1999 not just by the incredibly warm welcome she received across your country, but also by the beauty and harmony of the traditional villages and temples of Andong, amongst your country’s majestic mountains. Korea’s preservation of its sense of self, amid bewildering change, was perhaps what the poet Yun Dong-ju, who sotragically died in captivity on the very eve of Korea’s liberation, anticipated when he wrote:

While the wind keeps blowing, My feet stand upon a rock.

While the river keeps flowing, My feet stand upon a hill.

Mr President, Madame Kim,

As our nations strive towards a harmony between progress and preservation, between the past and the present, we can look to the future with great confidence as our peoples forge ever closer links. In education, so many young Koreans and Britons study at each other’s world-class universities. In the arts, Korean singers and musicians delight audiences when they perform with British orchestras. In sport, Korean footballers grace the English and Scottish Premier Leagues, and a British coach manages Korea’s women’s football team. In science, our researchers collaborate to find new energy solutions through hydrogen and fusion technology. Our defence companies seek joint projects which will let them find new markets together. Our cyber experts work together to protect us from those who would do us harm.

In addition our armed forces exercise and share expertise at a level of intensity befitting two powers which bear global responsibilities. Seventy years ago, in the Korean War, British servicemen fought valiantly alongside your people, under the banner of the United Nations, for the freedom of the Republic of Korea. Over 1,000 of them perished and nearly 900 lie interred today at Busan. We are immensely proud to salute the veterans of that conflict, and to remember those no longer with us. All those who fought for the survival of your fledgling Republic are in admiration of what your country has become. Through their own sweat and toil, and under the shadow of tyranny and the ever-present threat of aggression, over seven decades Koreans have built a bastion of democracy, human rights and freedom. In a world where these values are challenged, sadly, as rarely before in our lifetimes, the Republic of Korea and the United Kingdom stand shoulder to shoulder in defence of all that we hold dear.

And so, Mr President, Madame Kim, it is with great pride and pleasure that I propose a toast to the next 140 years of Korean-British relations. Wihayeo!

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