S'poreans showed care in tragedy

S'poreans showed care in tragedy
Part of South Korean passenger ship "Sewol" that has been sinking is seen as South Korean maritime policemen search for passengers in the sea off Jindo.

The "compassion and goodwill" shown by Singaporeans in response to the Sewol ferry tragedy illustrates the strong ties the country has with South Korea, the latter's ambassador has told The Sunday Times.

More than $30,000 has been raised here to donate to families affected by the disaster, while hundreds of locals visited a memorial hall set up at the Korean Association in Tanjong Pagar after the ferry capsized and sank on April 16.

The tragedy left at least 281 people dead and about 20 missing.

"Our close friendship is evident not only in good times, but also in difficult times," said Mr Suh Chung Ha, who has been in his job for 10 months.

"Their expressions of condolences and donations to the affected families deeply touched me and the South Korean community living here in Singapore. The compassion and goodwill shown by Singaporeans is deeply appreciated by all of us."

The number of South Koreans residing in Singapore has jumped from fewer than 20,000 just five years ago, to more than 25,000 today.

South Koreans "feel a close affiliation with Singaporeans", he added, partly because they share "similar cultural backgrounds and have experienced the achievement of rapid national development in a short time".

The blossoming relations have also registered on the economic front. Both countries registered record bilateral trade of S$52.7 billion in 2012, up from $46.8 billion in 2011, and were within the top eight on each other's lists of largest trading partners.

The ambassador credits the Korea-Singapore Free Trade Agreement, which was set up in 2006 and is currently under review, for playing a "major role" in these achievements.

He anticipates further growth in economic ties in years to come and foresees more South Korean companies investing in and setting up their regional South-east Asian headquarters in Singapore.

He believes the city state's political stability, prime location and developed infrastructure make it an attractive business hub.

Several electronic and technology companies such as Samsung are already based here. Mr Suh expects businesses from other industries such as cosmetics to make similar moves.

Both countries are also looking to expand the bilateral air services agreement to serve growing demand for flights from both sides, said Mr Suh.

This was highlighted by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during his first official visit to South Korean President Park Geun Hye in Seoul last December.

PM Lee had earlier said he hoped to see "more flights beyond Singapore and Korea", meaning flights from Singapore via Seoul to other destinations and vice versa.

Meanwhile, South Korea's focus is on increasing the number of flights between both countries, with Singapore and South Korea as final destinations, said Mr Suh. The ambassador added: "Our two governments' civil aviation officials are trying to reach an agreement, and hopefully we can achieve a fruitful result this year."

hpeishan@sph.com.sg

This article was published on May 18 in The Straits Times.

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