Nepal and the Republic of Korea established diplomatic relations on 15 May 1974.
Since then, both countries have enjoyed excellent bilateral relations. In order to enhance bilateral cooperation, both countries have concluded Agreements on Korean Youth Volunteers in January 1992, the EDCF Agreement in September 1997, the Agreement on the Avoidance of Double Taxation and the Prevention of Fiscal Evasion with respect to Taxes on Income in October 2001, Air Services Agreement in March 2005, and the Culture Agreement in April 2005.
In 2007, the Nepalese and Korean Governments signed MOU on EPS (Employment Permit System) for recruiting Nepalese workers.
The agreement on Consultation Mechanism between the two ministries of foreign affairs of the two governments to hold meetings in both the capitals alternatively to review and evaluate achievements on bilateral cooperation and advice the governments of both the parties to take appropriate measure(s) to further enhance the level of cooperation at multiple fronts.
Although the diplomatic relations were established in 1974, the actual cooperation from the Republic of Korea began after the signing of an agreement on Korean Youth Volunteers in 1992.
The Korean government made its efforts to assist in the socio economic development of Nepal through various development programs under the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) since 1991.
By the time Nepal and Korea had established diplomatic relations, the socio-economic state of the Republic of Korea was similar to that of Nepal.
However with the prudent policies measures, Korea transformed from one of the poorest countries to one of the developed countries in short span of time.
It was an exemplary experience of socio-economic transformation.
Its journey from aid recipient country to joining as a rich country’s club establishing itself as a donor country has been cited as one of the best examples of the success in the world.
Korea became the 24th member of the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) in 2010.
In this context, based on their own experience, the Korean government has accorded priority to the human resources development which will serve as a basis of national development and thus has extended cooperation in the health, education and ICT sectors of Nepal.
Today, Nepal has been selected as one of the core countries among 25 others for Korea’s ODA.
In spite of the economic development, Korea has also given its importance to the cultural affinity and bond that subsists as a heritage of Buddhism since centuries between our two countries.
In view of its religious importance as well as one of the holiest places among four Lumbini (Birthplace), Bodhagaya (the place of his enlightenment), Sarnath (Where he delivered his first teaching), and Kusinagar (Where he died), the Korean Buddhists have built a temple in Lumbini.
Under the assistance of the Government of Korea, a master plan for the development of greater Lumbini is also being drawn.
The foundation of Nepal-Korea relations is more about the cultural than the socio economic cooperation. In historical perspective, the Buddhism thrived in Korea after it took hold in China and made inroads to Japan through Korea.
It is this cultural and religious affinity and attachment that bind together the friendly bonds between Nepal and the Republic of Korea, which can be seen in the Lantern Festival.
Since the Lantern Festival is taking place continuously from antiquity on its own cultural flavor and spirit, it was in 2013 that the Chief Monk of Dosun Sa monastery Ven. Sunmook Hyeja thought of connecting its sacredness with Lumbini and drew a plan to bring in the peace torch from Lumbini to Korea during Lantern Festival.
One of the long cherished cultural assets inherited since centuries by the Korean is Lantern Festival. It is celebrated in honour of Light of Asia Shakyamuni Buddha at his birthday that falls in Buddha Purnima.
However, the celebration of Buddha Purnima. according to Korean calendar, differs about a week in Korea than in Nepal, it is the same Purnima that falls in the month of Baishakh.
The Lantern Festival celebrated enthusiastically in major cities in general and particularly with spectacular show in Seoul, is one of the cultural master pieces of Korea.
The Lanterns of different colours and designs carried in hand by devout Buddhists, commoners and chariots decorated during the burning continuously.
The Eternal Peace Flame also symbolizes the ageless wisdom that the Buddha propounded for common benefit of all sentient being.
Realizing its importance, the peace flame was carried to Shanghai, China during Shanghai Expo and lit amidst a celebration on September 3, 2010 by Rt. Hon. Ram Baran Yadav, President of Nepal.
Encouraged by it, the Senior Monks of Korea were inclined and passionate to bring in the eternal peace flame from the birthplace of Buddha to one of the holiest temple in Korea.
On April 18, 2013, the peace torch was lit amid a ritual ceremony in Lumbini and transported the same day overland to Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal.
The flame was transported by land route through China and reached to Incheon Harbor, Korea by ship.
From there on the peace torch was taken to DMZ, the most fortified border between the South and North Korea, for a ritual ceremony organized for praying lasting peace and peaceful unification of two Koreas.
Finally, it was taken to Dosun sa monastery and ablaze in its premises with a ritual ceremony at a time coinciding with the Lantern Festival, which was witnessed by all the heads of Buddhist orders, Venerable Senior Monks as well as High dignitaries of the Government of Korea.
Since then the flame is burning continuously as a symbol of world peace.
Prior to its permanent settlement, the flame of peace torch were also distributed to other associated 108 monasteries all over Korea for its setting in the premise of monasteries for the common benefit of Korean people and devout Buddhists in its surrounding.
The “Eternal Peace Flame” was also taken out in the procession for public during “Lantern Festival”, one of the largest festivals celebrated in Buddha Purnima, in Seoul.
The presence of Eternal Peace Flame in the Lantern Festival showcased the cultural value and became able to pass a message of world peace and brotherhood.
The age old cultural relationship between Nepal and Korea was taken a new height of amity, friendship and cooperation after this event.
The place in Korea where the Peace flame has been permanently installed has become a symbolic place for pilgrimage as well as touristic destination.
For Nepal, it would help in developing relationship at the people’s level.
The establishment of Eternal Peace Flame in Korean Monasteries has not only enhanced the cultural and religious friendship between Nepal and Korea but also opened-up the avenues of further cooperation in multiple sectors.
Undoubtedly it would put lasting effects in our bilateral relations in the days to come.
Contributions of Nepali Diaspora and their organizations in participating in the procession with chariots beautifully designed of Nepali temple art with aesthetical touch have been praise worthy.
While passing through the streets surrounding areas of Dongdemun and on way to the main city center, thousands of spectators and bystanders at the pathways, express their respect with a bow to the Nepali chariot.
In all the years serving in Seoul at the Nepali diplomatic mission, I had the opportunities to be a part of the procession and watch closely the depth and magnitude of cultural affinity between Nepal and the Republic of Korea.
The festival was not only an opportunity to exhibit cultural-religious affinity but also an important occasion to showcase the exposition of Nepali costumes of diverse ethnicities with multicultural flavor.
Since diplomacy is also meant to conduct soft diplomacy, promoting tourism, culture as its vital components of many others of the home country into the receiving country, the government requires to give proper attention with the emphasis by providing financial resources in order to empower its missions abroad so that the missions can conduct several promotional activities without any hitches.
Text courtesy: Association of Former Career Ambassadors of nepal (AFCAN), Volume 2, 2021.