09ASTANA173, KAZAKHSTAN: KOREANS SHARE U.S. VIEWS ON MADRID COMMITMENT

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09ASTANA173 2009-01-29 09:49 2011-08-30 01:44 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Astana

VZCZCXRO8743
OO RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHBI RUEHCI RUEHDA RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW
RUEHLA RUEHLH RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHNEH RUEHNP RUEHPOD RUEHPW RUEHROV
RUEHSK RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHTA #0173/01 0290949
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 290949Z JAN 09 ZDK
FM AMEMBASSY ASTANA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4479
INFO RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL 0252
RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE 1111
RUCNCLS/SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA COLLECTIVE
RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 0509
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 1215
RHEBAAA/DEPT OF ENERGY WASHDC
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHDC
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHDC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFAAA/DIA WASHDC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC 0684
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC 0600
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC
RHMFIUU/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 ASTANA 000173 
 
SENSITIVE 
SIPDIS 
 
STATE FOR SCA/CEN, DRL 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINR SOCI SCUL KDEM KIRF KS KZ
SUBJECT:  KAZAKHSTAN:  KOREANS SHARE U.S. VIEWS ON MADRID COMMITMENT 
LAWS, CONCERNED ABOUT RELIGION LEGISLATION 
 
REF: (A) ASTANA 0169 
      (B) 08 ASTANA 0282 
 
1.  (U) Sensitive but unclassified.  Not for public Internet. 
 
2.  (SBU) SUMMARY:  Poloff met several times in January with South 
Korean Embassy First Secretary Lee Jooil and Second Secretary Lee 
Moon-bae to discuss political and cultural relations between 
Kazakhstan and South Korea.  South Korea remains one of Kazakhstan's 
most important trading partners and largest investors (see reftel 
A).  In recognition of the importance of this relationship to both 
parties, South Korea's Prime Minister and Foreign Minister visited 
Kazakhstan in 2008.  However, despite a strong and cooperative 
economic and political relationship, South Korea is frustrated with 
the slow pace of the approval process for a land-lease agreement to 
build a new embassy in Astana.  South Korea shares U.S. views that 
Kazakhstan's new political party, election, and media legislation is 
a step in the right direction on democratization.  However, the 
Koreans are concerned about new religion legislation, in particular 
because most Korean expatriates in Kazakhstan are missionaries. 
While ethnic Korean citizens of Kazakhstan remain influential in 
Kazakhstani political and business circles, most are not interacting 
with the South Korean business community.  These Korean Embassy 
officials also commented on the hardships of working in Astana.  END 
SUMMARY. 
 
DISAPPOINTED WITH DELAYS IN BUILDING NEW EMBASSY 
 
3.  (SBU) During a January meeting, South Korean Embassy First 
Secretary Lee Jooil told Poloff that a high priority for his Mission 
is obtaining Kazakhstani permission to construct a new building for 
their embassy in Astana, which would be located several hundred 
meters from the U.S. Embassy.  Lee said that when Korean Ambassador 
Il Soo Kim met recently with a Kazakhstani Deputy Foreign Minister 
to discuss the land-lease agreement, the Deputy Foreign Minister 
said that all internal procedures had been completed within the 
Kazakhstani government, but Kazakhstan will need "some sort of 
assurance" that if the capital of South Korea is moved out of Seoul, 
Kazakhstan will receive "parity of conditions."  Lee expressed 
surprise and frustration at this latest development, pointing out 
that four years ago, when Ambassador Kim presented his credentials, 
President Nazarbayev promised South Korea a land plot for a new 
embassy building in Astana.  Lee recounted that when Prime Minister 
Han Seung-soo visited Kazakhstan in May 2008, Kazakhstani officials 
told the Korean Embassy to "please wait."  During Foreign Minister 
Yu Myung-hwan's October 2008 visit, the Kazakhstani government asked 
South Korea to "wait just a little bit longer."  Lee told Poloff 
"the fact that no agreement has yet been finalized after several 
high-level visits and promises has been very disappointing."  Lee 
said that Korea's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MOFAT) is 
anxious to resolve this problem quickly, but is not willing to 
incorporate any statement about parity into the Astana land-lease 
agreement.  If Kazakhstan drops its insistence on the parity clause 
and approves the land-lease agreement, Lee emphasized that South 
Korea is ready to begin construction immediately.  The building 
designs are complete, and the embassy has already chosen a prominent 
Korean construction company, Highvill, to be its contractor. 
 
SIMILAR VIEWS ON MADRID LEGISLATION, RELIGION LAW 
 
4.  (SBU) Lee Jooil said South Korea shares the U.S. view that the 
media, election, and political party laws recently approved by 
Kazakhstan's parliament to fulfill Kazakhstan's Madrid commitments 
are "a step in the right direction towards democratization," and 
that it is important to take whatever pragmatic steps are possible 
to encourage further progress.  Lee said that his Ambassador agrees 
that we must uphold democratic values without being overly 
ideological.  He also emphasized that Korea shares U.S. concerns 
about the religion law that President Nazarbayev sent to the 
Constitutional Council for review, and stressed that his embassy is 
particularly interested in how the law would affect Korean 
missionaries in Kazakhstan.  Lee pointed out that the Korean 
expatriate community in Kazakhstan is relatively small, and that 
 
ASTANA
00000173  002 OF 003 
 
 
most of these expatriates are, in fact, missionaries.  He estimated 
that there are 100 Korean missionaries in Kazakhstan in total, 
mostly running small churches with approximately 30-40 members each. 
 Lee admitted that many Korean missionaries in Kazakhstan hold 
NGO-worker visas, not religious-worker visas. 
 
ETHNIC KOREANS POPULATION REMAINS INFLUENTIAL 
 
5.  (SBU) Although ethnic Korean citizens of Kazakhstan constitute 
only 100,000 or so people -- about 0.7 percent of Kazakhstan's 
overall population -- many hold influential positions in 
Kazakhstan's business and political spheres.  (NOTE:  As reported in 
reftel B, Kazakhstan's ethnic Korean community dates from the 1930s, 
when Stalin deported Koreans en masse from the Russian Far East to 
Kazakhstan.  END NOTE.)  Ethnic Koreans have been particularly 
active in the financial, real-estate, construction, and retail 
sectors, all of which have been severely affected by the global 
financial crisis.  The most prominent Kazakhstani Koreans include 
Vladimir Kim and Vladimir Ni of Kazakhmys Corporation (both of whom 
are very close to President Nazarbayev), Oleg Nam of Kuat 
Construction, Victor Tsoi of Ak Ayul Construction, and Yuriy Tchkay 
of Caspian Bank.  Lee Jooil said that to his chagrin, most of these 
ethnic Korean businessmen are not actively promoting South Korean 
business interests in Kazakhstan.  Lee told Poloff that one reason 
is that most Kazakhstani Koreans speak practically no Korean.  Lee 
noted that he has never even spoken in Korean with the Chairman of 
the Astana branch of the Association of Koreans in Astana, Dr. 
Alexander Kim; when Lee and Kim met, they speak in English instead. 
Lee noted exceptions include two ethnic Koreans on his staff who 
learned Korean through a program that the Korea International 
Cooperation Agency (KOIKA) administers. 
 
KOREA PLANS TO INCREASE ITS CULTURAL ACTIVITIES 
 
6.  (SBU) In fact, KOIKA's teaches Korean to any interested 
Kazakhstani citizens, regardless of ethnicity.  Lee told Poloff that 
KOIKA's Kazakhstan director, who has been in Astana for two years, 
is very energetic, increasing KOIKA's budget and programs.  Korea is 
also investing in cultural programming in Kazakhstan.  At a photo 
exhibition on December 8 entitled "Korea -- Forwards and Upwards" 
Poloff met Ambassador Kim and the South Korean Embassy's new 
Director for Cultural Affairs, Han Sung-rae, who discussed their 
plans to open a new Korean Cultural Center in the spring of 2009. 
 
AMBASSADOR KIM:  RARE KOREAN DIPLOMAT WITH GOOD RUSSIAN 
 
7.  (SBU) Neither Lee Jooil nor Second Secretary Lee Moon-bae speaks 
Russian.  Both said that Ambassador Kim is one of the very few South 
Korean diplomats who speak Russian well.  They explained that 
Ambassador Kim studied Russian in London on his own during the Cold 
War era when South Korea and the Soviet Union did not have 
diplomatic relations.  Korea's Deputy Chief of Mission in Astana, 
who previously served in Moscow, also speaks Russian.  Lee Jooil 
told Poloff that his own inability to speak Russian makes life very 
difficult for him in Kazakhstan, both professionally and personally. 
 Since few Kazakhstani MFA officials and local staff at the Korean 
Embassy speak Korean, Lee has to communicate in English to handle 
all work-related matters. 
 
LIFE WITHOUT GOOD KIMCHEE 
 
8.  (SBU) Both Lee Jooil and Lee Moon-bae stressed that Astana is a 
serious hardship posting for Korean diplomatic personnel.  They 
noted that while there are four or five Korean restaurants in 
Almaty, there is only one in Astana.  Lee complained that at that 
restaurant, "the food is not very good," and even the least 
expensive entrees cost more than $15.  However, since it is the only 
Korean restaurant in Astana, Lee reported embassy staff often 
entertain there.  Lee said the restaurant, which is owned by Yuriy 
Tckhay, has almost always been empty when he dined there, and opined 
that "it must be a venue used for Tckhay's political purposes, 
rather than a for-profit business." 
 
 
ASTANA 00000173  003 OF 003 
 
 
HOAGLAND

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