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British minister dispels worries about uncertainty over post-Brexit ties with S. Korea

All News 16:13 October 01, 2019

By Song Sang-ho

SEOUL, Oct. 1 (Yonhap) -- Britain's top official for Asia dispelled concerns Tuesday about lingering uncertainty over the future relationship between South Korea and Britain after London's expected departure from the European Union (EU).

Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister for Asia and the Pacific Heather Wheeler stressed that backed by a set of institutional frameworks, such as a recently signed bilateral free trade agreement (FTA), the ties between the two countries are "certain."

"There shouldn't be any undue speculation in Korea because our future relationship with Global Britain and trade with you is certain, and that's what businesses always want -- certainty," the minister said in an interview with six local media outlets, including Yonhap News Agency.

"There shouldn't be any speculation amongst Korean businesses ... We will do business as usual, Global Britain and Korea together," she added.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister for Asia and the Pacific Heather Wheeler speaks during an interview with local media at the British Embassy in Seoul on Oct. 1, 2019. (Yonhap)

Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister for Asia and the Pacific Heather Wheeler speaks during an interview with local media at the British Embassy in Seoul on Oct. 1, 2019. (Yonhap)

Wheeler was in Seoul to attend a series of local events, including the signing of a memorandum of understanding over the establishment of a senior-level dialogue body aimed at firming up bilateral economic cooperation after Britain's withdrawal from the EU, or Brexit, which London wants to achieve by Oct. 31.

Her visit here came as the two countries are striving to strengthen institutional frameworks to ensure closer cooperation in the post-Brexit era. Among them is the bilateral "continuity" FTA that they signed last month to allow businesses to keep trading freely after Brexit.

The minister highlighted Prime Minister Boris Johnson's commitment to exiting the regional bloc as planned.

"The prime minister has made it absolutely clear that we want to leave with a deal. We are negotiating very hard to have a deal, but ultimately 31st of October, we will be leaving," she said.

"We are a democratic country. We believe that if you go to all the trouble of having a referendum, then you've absolutely got to listen and acknowledge the votes of the public," she added.

Touching on Britain's role in the ongoing efforts for a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula, the minister raised the prospect of Britain sharing its technical expertise in the process of North Korea's denuclearization.

"We can help with perhaps more on the technical level, because we've got great expertise in denuclearization, in decommissioning of nuclear bunkers and equipment," she said.

She also voiced hopes that the U.S. would soon make an announcement on its working-level nuclear talks with the North, which are expected to resume in the coming weeks.

"We are very much waiting on (U.S.) President Trump making an announcement about the possibility of new talks," she said. "Whether talks are going to be held ... I don't know. But I am hoping that that announcement will be made soon."

Noting progress in the ongoing inter-Korean peace efforts, such as the removal of land mines in some parts of the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas, the minister congratulated President Moon Jae-in on his steadfast peace drive.

"We congratulate President Moon on all the hard work that he has gone into to try and get a full peace agreement and denuclearization," she said.

"I was talking with some military people today about great strides you've made in taking out land mines in your side of the area and you know that is a wonderful example of how peace really should be able to be made between your two countries," she added.

As for areas of present and future cooperation, she touched upon a series of areas, such as the fintech sector and renewable energies.

To further discuss future economic cooperation, Britain has invited South Korea's Vice Foreign Minister Lee Tae-ho to London possibly to hold the inaugural session of their senior-level economic dialogue early next year, she said.

"We will find out more areas where the UK economy can show, share expertise with Korea," she said.


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