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[Interview] Dutch ambassador on Netherlands' role in Korean War

When the Korean War started in 1950, the Netherlands was not in good shape. The country had been ravaged by the battles of World War II. Still busy with restoration, the country dispatched its army and navy to the Korean Peninsula.

From December 1950 to the end of 1953, a total of 5,322 Dutch servicemen bravely fought in various places around Gangwon-do (Gangwon Province) including Daeusan Mountain and Hoengseong and Inje counties in South Korea as well as Pyeonggang County in present-day North Korea.

Sixty years ago, the name Korea was unknown in the Netherlands, but they joined the UN Forces to repel the invasion of North Korea.

Dutch Ambassador to Korea Paul Menkveld stands in the garden of his official residence in Yongsan District, Seoul (photo: Jeon Han).

Dutch Ambassador to Korea Paul Menkveld stands in the garden of his official residence in Yongsan District, Seoul (photo: Jeon Han).


The Netherlands is the first country in the world to have its ambassador to South Korea serve as ambassador to North Korea at the same time. Korea.net sat down with Ambassador Paul Menkveld in his residence in Yongsan District, Seoul, recently.

Q: There is a Dutch War Veteran Monument in Hoengseong County shaped like a windmill. How many Dutch soldiers participated in the Korean War? And what does the participation in the war mean to the Netherlands?

A: In 1950, the United Nations called on countries to assist South Korea to repel the attack of North Korea, and the Dutch government responded to that call and sent a battalion and naval ships.

In total, 5,322 Dutch soldiers and sailors participated in the war.

Now, you mentioned the monument in Hoengseong. It is dedicated to Dutch soldiers who lost their lives during the war. We lost 121 soldiers, with 645 wounded and four missing in action.

You asked about the 60th anniversary of the armistice agreement in July, and the 63rd commemoration of the start of the war. We do have a delegation from the Netherlands including the chairman of the association of Korean War veterans in the Netherlands. He's 85 but still very healthy and he's coming here together with his son.

And on July 27, the 60th anniversary of the armistice, we will have our Chief of Defence Staff coming for the ceremony. So, we'll all be paying quite a lot of attention to this anniversary in the Netherlands.

In the 1950s, the Korean War was not very well known in the Netherlands. We had a battalion here but we were very busy with rebuilding our lives after World War II.

At that time, there was no television or Internet, so all the news from 8,000 kilometers away had to come by mail or telegraph. So there was not much news, and the people there were not that interested. Nowadays, it's different.

This was the very first UN Peacekeeping Force operation. Since then, there have been many UN operations, and the Netherlands participated in quite a few of them.

We had soldiers in Cambodia, Bosnia, and Lebanon. Korea is doing likewise in Lebanon. That has raised much awareness among the public on the UN Peacekeeping Force.

In that context, there's more and more attention to what happened 60, 63 years ago in Korea.

Dutch Ambassador to Korea Paul Menkveld is interviewed at his residence in Yongsan, Seoul (photo: Jeon Han).

Dutch Ambassador to Korea Paul Menkveld is interviewed at his residence in Yongsan, Seoul (photo: Jeon Han).


Q: The Netherlands was the first country to have an ambassador to both North and South Korea. How did the Netherlands decide to do that?

A: South Korea and the Netherlands entered diplomatic relations in 1961. We opened an embassy in Seoul in the early 1970s having a resident ambassador here in Seoul.

We only started diplomatic relations with North Korea (DPRK) in 2001, so a little bit more than ten years ago. In 2001, there was the Sunshine Policy of the previous administration, followed by a high-level meeting and the June 15 North-South Joint Declaration.

So the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs thought, “Why not have a unified ambassador and show both Koreas the way to unification?"

It was discussed in Pyongyang whether we could have the ambassador in Seoul accredited also to Pyongyang.

First, they raised some eyebrows because we were the first to ask this, but accepted it. Now 20 countries’ ambassadors in Seoul are also accredited in North Korea (DPRK).

Q: Then, what is the Dutch government's primary focus when cooperating with South or North Korea?

A: That is totally different. With South Korea, the Netherlands has very intensive relations in the political, economic, and cultural areas and tourism, etc.

Our trade with South Korea is almost USD 10 billion a year. Many Dutch companies invest in Korea and vice versa.

That is not the case with DPRK. It is very low-intensity relations. We don't have high-level political visits, economic ties, and there's no development cooperation. So, it's only official diplomatic relations.

A member of Dutch embassy in Seoul, or I, travels to DPRK twice a year while the North Korean ambassador to the Netherlands, who has his residence in Switzerland, comes to the Netherlands twice a year.

Q: The Netherlands has a very strong startup business culture, with over 95 percent of all companies being small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). What is the key to the Netherlands becoming a powerhouse in incubating new businesses?

A: Well, first of all, the Netherlands also has very big multinational companies. Just to mention a few, the Dutch Anglo-Saxon oil and gas company Shell is one of the biggest multinational companies in the world. We have quite a number of them including Philips, AkzoNobel, Vopak, and the beer brand Heineken.

But just like you said, we also have a very vibrant SME sector. And that's classified by companies that have less than 250 staff. That's what we call SME. With over 250 employees, we call it a big company.

Now, 95 percent of all companies in the Netherlands are SMEs and account for 75 percent of all employment in the Netherlands.

The Korean government in the past focused on big companies to achieve rapid economic growth. They were very successful. But now, it's time to adjust the policy a little bit, not to get rid of the big ones, no -- you need them -- but to also have SMEs and vibrant economic sectors to create jobs.

Dutch Ambassador to Korea Paul Menkveld stands in the garden of his official residence in Yongsan District, Seoul (photo: Jeon Han).

Dutch Ambassador to Korea Paul Menkveld stands in the garden of his official residence in Yongsan District, Seoul (photo: Jeon Han).


Q: The Korean government recently set its employment rate goal at 70 percent, and the Netherlands already achieved a 70-percent employment rate by expanding hourly jobs. Can you please tell us more about the Dutch government's strategy for creating jobs?

A: Almost all governments in the world are busy with battling off unemployment and creating jobs, decent jobs, for people who are able and willing to work.

But the government itself cannot generate economic growth. That's for the private sector to do. They create jobs, income, and welfare.

But the government can do a lot to help the private sector do it. For instance, in education, making sure that educational and vocational training is adjusted to the needs of the private sector so demand and supply match.

The government can, for instance, create regulations on hiring and firing, legalizing certain types of work. As you mentioned, 70 percent of females are economically active. Women make up 50 percent of the world and so should account for 50 percent of the labor force.

They should also be almost 100 percent employed, like men. Often, that's not very easy for women and families. So the government can give a lot in its part making daycare centers available and related rules or regulations. The government can be a good example itself, by employing many female staffers.

So in the Netherlands, we are quite happy to have a high level participation of females in the workforce.

Q: Mr. Ambassador, what do you think are some of the conditions to be met to apply The Wassenaar Agreement to Korea?

A: The Wassenaar Agreement, made in 1982, is a landmark deal between the government, business community, and labor unions in the Netherlands.

They agreed on two things. The labor unions accepted a modest wage increase, instead of maximum wage increase.

And the business sector, on their side, agreed to use increased profitability for investment and creating more jobs, instead of giving it to shareholders.

Moreover, it was agreed to reduce average working hours in the industry. Reducing working hours means that if the demand for workforce stays the same, you need more people to reach the same output.

It was wage restraint for the sake of job security and new jobs. It was a landmark agreement.

But for that, you need very visionary leaders, both in the government, business sector and labor union. You need people who could look beyond their own narrow goal and see a broader picture.

And you also need leaders who have a big clout in the union and business community because you have to say sometimes very unpopular things.

So it needs visionary leaders, with a lot of clout in their own backyard. And we were lucky to have that circumstance in 1982.

Dutch Ambassador to Korea Paul Menkveld shares a photograph taken at the annual Service of the Commemoration of the Dutch Participation in the Korean War, in front of a windmill-shaped Dutch Korean War veteran monument in Hoengseong County on May 3, 2013 (photo: Jeon Han).

Dutch Ambassador to Korea Paul Menkveld shares a photograph taken at the annual Service of the Commemoration of the Dutch Participation in the Korean War, in front of a windmill-shaped Dutch Korean War veteran monument in Hoengseong County on May 3, 2013 (photo: Jeon Han).


Q: Lastly, in which field do you hope to see more exchanges take place between our two countries? Also, if there's anything you would like to say to the Korean public, please share it with us.

A: Well, we can always have more economic ties. We have very good economic ties but we are looking to increase our economic growth and reduce unemployment, so we need more trade, investments -- investments by Dutch companies in Korea and the other way around.

We can also benefit from more student exchanges than we already have, more cultural exchanges, and so on. In all those areas, there's room to do even better.

For education, we already have approximately 600 to 700 Korean students going to study in the Netherlands every year. And we have quite a number of Dutch students coming to Korea.

We also have exchange professors and we are working on joint PhD programs. So we are very pleased with what we're already doing, but can always do better.

By Limb Jae-un
Korea.net Staff Writer
jun2@korea.kr

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