Focus on enhancing trade, economic and cultural ties between Korea and Sri Lanka | Sunday Observer
Korea’s new envoy in Colombo speaks to Sunday Observer:

Focus on enhancing trade, economic and cultural ties between Korea and Sri Lanka

13 August, 2023
Ambassador Lee presenting credentials to President Ranil Wickremesinghe in Kandy
Ambassador Lee presenting credentials to President Ranil Wickremesinghe in Kandy


Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to Sri Lanka, Miyon Lee is a veteran diplomat in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with thirty years of experience in diplomacy and international affairs.

Having graduated from the Seoul National University with a Bachelor of Arts in Asian History and Master of Science in Foreign Service from the Georgetown University of D.C., U.S.A., she possesses a solid foundation that has prepared her to make significant strides in her career as a diplomat.

Prior to her appointment as the Korean Ambassador to Sri Lanka, she has served as the Director-General for Bilateral Economic Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ambassador and Deputy Permanent Representative for the Korean Permanent Mission in Geneva, Switzerland. She has also served overseas in Vietnam, China and Laos.

Her expertise in multilateral trade negotiations and economic security issues paired with unique perspective will be an asset to strengthen the Korea-Sri Lanka relations


In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Observer, the newly appointed Ambassador of South Korea to Sri Lanka Miyon Lee elaborates on her vision to further strengthen the age-old ties between Korea and Sri Lanka. Lee is keen to maximise the opportunities and face any challenges in this endeavour. She is incidentally the first female Ambassador appointed by the Korean Government to represent its interests in Sri Lanka.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q: There is often a “glass ceiling” for women diplomats in many countries. What are the challenges you have faced in your journey as a female diplomat?

A: With around 30 years of experience, working on overseas assignments in Laos, Beijing and Geneva, I have encountered numerous challenges, especially to maintain a work-family balance. But I would say, such challenges are not limited to women but are faced by male diplomats as well.

Back in 1993, I was the 10th female diplomat to pass the Korean Foreign Service examination. It was very challenging in the formative years, but essence of diplomacy has evolved over the years. Today, more than half of new recruits to our Foreign Ministry are women. In a short span, more women diplomats in Korea have been successful in all divisions, striving to reach the pinnacle of their careers. They have certainly left their mark and continue to do good work in diplomatic circles.

Q: How does it feel to be the first woman ambassador of South Korea to Sri Lanka?

A: It is a great honour to work in Sri Lanka as the Ambassador of the Republic of Korea, but I do not want to put too much emphasis on being the first ‘woman’ Ambassador per se. Moreover, there are many other women Ambassadors to Sri Lanka and I am happy to see the increasing number of them who are committed to strengthening bilateral and multilateral ties. I hope to learn from their experiences as well. Sri Lanka too has many women ambassadors at its missions abroad.

Q: Your predecessor was highly active in diplomatic circles and did a yeoman service to improve the ties between the two countries. How do you plan to take this mission forward, perhaps in your own way?

A: Of course, all my predecessors have done excellent work to improve cooperation between Korea and Sri Lanka. Before assuming my duties, I had the opportunity to meet some of them and they have conveyed how much they loved their experience and work in Sri Lanka.

As the Korean Envoy, my goal is to strengthen the economic and trade cooperation between our two countries based on my expertise in the area of economic affairs. I hope to promote mutually beneficial opportunities in investment, trade and intensify economic engagement through diverse partnerships between Korea and Sri Lanka.

I am also committed to garner Sri Lanka’s support for Korea’s bid to host the 2030 World Expo in Busan, our second largest city. Having made the successful journey from a developing country to a developed one in a few decades, a process called the “Miracle on the Han River”, I strongly believe that Korea is best positioned to build consensus among countries of different development stages and tackle global challenges such as the digital divide, economic inequality and Climate Change.

Respecting cultural diversity, the World Expo Busan will be a platform for solutions addressing humanity’s complex and urgent challenges and a venue for creating new business opportunities among various countries and companies.

Q: What are the areas of cooperation that can be further improved?

A: Under the Indo-Pacific strategy, the Korean Government has placed more emphasis on bilateral engagement with the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) countries including Sri Lanka through increased economic and development cooperation. In this light, I will do my best to resume the bilateral trade and investment between Korea and Sri Lanka, which have been reduced during the last few years due to Covid-19 and economic setbacks.

Moreover, cultural cooperation also plays a pivotal role in our relations. On July 8, 2023, the Korean embassy held a big cultural event ‘Korea Week’, comprising a Taekwondo Championship and a K-pop festival. Also, I recently visited the Korean Day at the University of Kelaniya. Through these events, I could feel the overwhelming interest that young Sri Lankans have for Korean culture. Sri Lankan television channels have been telecasting K-dramas for years, which is also a contributing factor for this phenomenon. Considering this popularity, I will also focus on providing Sri Lankans with more opportunities to experience K-culture.

Q: Will there be more employment and education opportunities for Sri Lankan youth in Korea?

A: Reflecting on the growing interest to learn about Korean culture, there has been a sharp increase in the demand for Korean language education. The Korean embassy is working in close partnership with the National Institute of Education (NIE) to provide more opportunities for Sri Lankan students to learn the Korean language.

My focus is not only to expand opportunities in Korean language education, but also encourage students to pursue scholarships in diverse academic interests such as engineering, STEM subjects, physical sciences and humanities in Korea. From elementary education to vocational education and post-graduate higher education, the Korean Government provides scholarships, training programs and exchange programs to equip youth with knowledge and skills to be competent citizens of Sri Lanka.

I would like to see more students who had educational opportunities in Korea return to Sri Lanka and contribute to the national development process of the country. Skilled human resources will be a vital pillar to ensure that Sri Lanka can achieve its development objectives and also become valuable assets to improve the longstanding bilateral friendship shared between Korea and Sri Lanka.

Q: How about having more flights between the two countries, perhaps by Korean Air as well?

A: Well I came to Sri Lanka by SriLankan Airlines. Regardless of the airlines or flights, I would encourage more people-to-people exchanges and elevate the frequency of operations between the two countries. While I hope for Korean Air to resume operations in Sri Lanka (these were stopped during the pandemic period), I am also certain that SriLankan Airlines can benefit from the increasing numbers of inter-personnel contact. People-to-people contact is vital for further developing the ties between our two nations.

Q: Indeed, how about encouraging more people-to people contact, such as more Korean Buddhists coming over to pay homage to sacred Buddhist sites in Sri Lanka?

A: History tells us that there have been pilgrimages since ancient times between two countries and inter-Buddhist exchanges continue actively to these days. As Sri Lanka has a long history of Buddhism and numerous UNESCO World Heritage Sites and other beautiful attractions, I hope more Korean people will visit Sri Lanka and appreciate these historical and cultural heritage sites. We have to take that message to the Korean people.

Q: A Sri Lanka-Korea Free Trade Agreement (FTA) has been talked about for many years. Will you be working towards that?

A: An Agreement on Economic Cooperation between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Government of Korea has come into effect in March of this year. Based on this agreement, I would like to strengthen bilateral economic ties between the two countries.

Given the long process of concluding and implementing a FTA, the Trade and Investment Promotion Framework (TIPF) may be one option to consider. The TIPF is a partnership package that encompasses supply chain, digital, clean energy and other emerging trade issues, and is expected to serve as a catalyst for further advancement of the two nations’ economic ties.

Q: Korea is one of the biggest investors in Sri Lanka. Do you hope to see an upward momentum in this regard?

A: I see numerous opportunities for Korean Investors to make more direct investments in Sri Lanka since Sri Lanka has made great strides in reforming the economy to overcome the current challenges. The Korean embassy is working hard to facilitate investment and trade opportunities for Korean entities that are interested in making investment here. I welcome the efforts of the Sri Lankan Government to create investment-friendly environments with one-stop shops and elimination of red tape. With the close cooperation of the Government of Sri Lanka, I will try my best to elevate our investment and trade ties and revive the economic activities, now that Covid and the economic crisis have been addressed.