Bilateral relations were placed on a formal footing with the signing of the German-Korean Treaty of Amity, Commerce and Navigation on 26 November 1883. After the Korean War of 1950 to 1953, which resulted in the country’s partition, close and trustful relations developed between the Federal Republic of Germany and the Republic of Korea.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Germany played a significant role in laying the foundations for Korea’s economic miracle. South Korea has changed from being one of the world’s poorest countries in the 1950s to the world’s twelfth-largest economy today – and from a recipient of development aid to a donor country.
Of particular importance for bilateral relations is the countries’ shared experience of division. The experience Germany gained through its reunification process – détente, rapprochement, the fall of the Wall and the ensuing reunification – gives Korean policy-makers and academics valuable ideas for developing their own policy solutions. In 2011, a high-level bilateral panel of experts meeting once a year was set up to strengthen and institutionalise exchange on the internal aspects of unification in cooperation between the Korean Ministry of Unification and the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. During then Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier’s visit to Korea in the autumn of 2014, another advisory body was set up to address the foreign policy implications of reunification in particular. This group concluded its work in 2017 with a final report for both Governments containing recommendations for closer cooperation, which are gradually being implemented.
Since 2002, representatives of civil society in Germany and Korea have been meeting to discuss current issues relating to bilateral relations as part of the German-Korean Forum. The Forum, which takes place alternately in Korea and Germany, is held in tandem with a bilateral youth forum at which participants discuss important topical issues from the point of view of young people and formulate recommendations. The 17th meeting of the German-Korean Forum took place in Daejeon from 24 to 26 October 2018. The next meeting will probably be held in Berlin this autumn.
Shared concerns bring Korea and Germany together: strengthening effective multilateralism, consolidating the global economic and financial system within the framework of the G20, participating in peacekeeping operations, upholding democratic and rule of law structures, protecting human rights, preventing climate change and ensuring the non proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. On his first overseas trip since taking office, President Moon Jae in visited Berlin and Hamburg from 5 to 8 July 2017, meeting with Federal President Frank Walter Steinmeier and Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel, among others. Germany’s Federal President Steinmeier paid an official visit to Korea from 7 to 10 February 2018, during which he attended the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Pyeonchang. Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas visited Korea from 25 to 26 July 2018.
Economic relations and education
Economic relations between the two countries are close. With its highly competitive economy and advanced technological capabilities, Korea is one of Germany’s main trading partners in East Asia. Korea, the world’s twelfth-largest economy and seventh-largest export nation, is the third most important market for German goods in Asia after the People’s Republic of China and just behind Japan – but ahead of India and other bigger countries. Germany remains South Korea’s most important European trading partner by far.
Bilateral trade in the first half of 2018 was worth approximately 15.7 billion US dollars according to Korean statistics, with a trade surplus of 6.1 billion US dollars in Germany’s favour. Germany is the third-largest European investor in South Korea, with actual foreign direct investment totalling approximately 10.3 billion US dollars (from 1962 to the first half of 2018). In the first half of 2018, German companies invested 59 million US dollars in South Korea.
According to Korean figures, there are some 500 German companies or firms with German equity participation operating in the country, employing a local workforce of approximately 100,000. As of the end of June 2018, Korean aggregate foreign direct investment in Germany stood at 4.9 billion US dollars. It is concentrated in Hesse, especially in the Frankfurt am Main region.
Science and research
Relations in the areas of research and technology are developing dynamically. South Korea has in recent years become an attractive cooperation partner and is a global leader in information and communication technology. Prominent German research institutions are keen to cooperate with Korean partners. The institutes of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, German universities and the Max Planck Society are particularly active in this regard.
Cultural relations and education
Cultural exchange between South Korea and Germany is intensive and varied. Germany and its culture – especially its classical music and its literature – are held in high regard in South Korea. The Goethe-Institut there organises a wide range of cultural events and has a broad network of contacts with partner institutions in the country.
German and Korean universities have established a number of promising cooperation partnerships. There are some 6000 Koreans studying at German universities. The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and other organisations offer numerous scholarship programmes. Some 470 university partnerships and the around 100 German lectors working at Korean universities serve to enrich academic connections. After completing their studies at German universities, many South Korean graduates maintain contact with Germany through the more than 45 German-Korean societies and alumni associations, including the umbrella organisation Alumni Network Germany-Korea (ADeKo).
The more than 40,000 Koreans and numerous Germans with Korean roots living in Germany act as an important bridge between the two countries. In addition to students and company representatives, this group also includes many former miners and nurses as well as their descendants.
This text is intended as a source of basic information. It is regularly updated. No liability can be accepted for the accuracy or completeness of its contents.