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France and South Korea

Political relations

On 4 June 1886, France and Korea signed a Treaty of Friendship, Commerce, and Navigation, marking the start of diplomatic relations which continued to develop. During the Korean War, France, within the United Nations Command, supported South Korea. It provided a contingent of over 3400 men that was part of UN forces. During the commemorations of the 60th anniversary of the Armistice in 2013, Mr Kader Arif, Minister Delegate for Veterans, represented France at the official ceremonies and paid tribute to the 270 French soldiers killed in Korea between 1950 and 1953.

France maintains a close dialogue with South Korea on major international and global issues (development, non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, climate change etc.).

The President of Korea, Ms Park Geun-hye, made an official visit in France on 2-4 November 2013. It was decided to strengthen the comprehensive partnership between the two countries, with precise objectives in all the areas set out in the joint statement issued during the visit.

The South Korean Prime Minister, Mr Hwang Kyo-ahn, visited France from 16 to 19 September 2015. The visit was an opportunity to inaugurate the France-Korea Year. An agreement to facilitate the mobility of professionals and trainees was also signed. It will help develop human and economic exchanges between our two countries.
The President of the French Republic, François Hollande, made an official visit to South Korea on 4 November 2015. The France-Korea Action Plan for a 21st Century Strengthened Comprehensive Partnership was adopted on that occasion.
The Year of Korea in France will last until the end of August 2016. The Year of France in Korea will take place from March to December 2016.

Economic relations

Korea is France’s third-largest customer in Asia and our fifth-largest global trade surplus. France is Korea’s second-largest European supplier and became its 17th-largest global supplier in 2014, rising eight places compared to 2012. It is the leading aviation supplier, the second-largest perfume and cosmetics supplier and the fourth-largest pharmaceutical supplier. Trade (€8 billion in 2014) is part of a positive momentum, with a 17% growth of French exports to Korea up to €5 billion, and a positive balance for France that has increased sharply (€1.9 billion in 2014 compared to €357 million in 2013). French exports to Korea, which have also benefited from the 2011 EU-South Korea Free Trade Agreement (FTA), doubled in ten years.
France is one of the leading investors in Korea (€7 billion in stock; the second-largest EU investor after the Netherlands; 174 French companies accounting for 24,000 jobs). South Korean investment in France remains small.

Scientific, academic and cultural cooperation

South Korea has asserted itself as a pole of influence in Asia. Thanks to its public authorities’ strong, proactive approach, South Korea has world-class infrastructures in the area of research, a sector in which it invests heavily, in academic training, and in cultural dissemination (worldwide success of “hallyu”, Korean popular culture).
Our partnerships are developing in two main directions: attractiveness and scientific research, and cultural exchanges.

The French Minister of Culture and Communication, Ms Fleur Pellerin, visited Seoul and Busan from 8 to 10 October 2015 in connection with the Year of France in Korea 2015-2016. She attended the 20th edition of the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) which gave French cinema pride of place.

Scientific and technical cooperation

With 3.3 million students out of 59 million inhabitants, R&D expenditure accounting for 4.32% of GDP, of which over 75% is from the private sector, South Korea has invested proactively in higher education and technological research to boost its economy and innovation.

The visit to Korea of Ms Geneviève Fioraso, French Minister of Higher Education and Research, in February 2013, provided an opportunity to reaffirm France’s and Korea’s mutual desire to develop and strengthen their scientific and academic cooperation. On the occasion of her second visit to Korea in July 2013, Ms Fioraso presided over the signing of five agreements to boost structuring partnerships at the highest level between the higher education and research institutions of both countries.

The most emblematic cooperation projects included the opening of the Pasteur Institute of Korea in 2004 created on the theme “From the genome to medicines” which was continued for one year in 2014, and the setting up of joint centres for research in nanophotonics (2006), particle physics (2007), spintronics and quantum dynamic imaging (2010). These projects were part, in particular, of the Hubert Curien (PHC) – STAR partnership, a Franco-Korean programme launched in 2003 to develop excellence research projects by financing scientific exchanges between Korean and French teams. The PHC STAR programme made it possible to carry out 167 projects over the past ten years for a total budget of nearly €3 million.

In 2009, an international research group (GRDI) for research in materials science was established by the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and the Pierre and Marie Curie University, Paris 7 on the one hand, and by the Korean Yonsei, Hanyang and Ewha universities on the other.

In 2010 France was the guest of honour of the Korea Science Festival (3-8 August) and participated from May to August 2012 in the Expo 2012 Yeosu Korea on the theme “The Living Ocean and Coast: Diversity of Resources and Sustainable Activities”.

During the French President’s visit in November 2015 a letter of intent was signed on transport. Cooperation will focus on developing transport and infrastructure policy, on security, on the fight against congestion and pollution, and on project funding. Cooperation will take place through information exchange, visits of officials, exchange and training of experts and researchers (public or private), and the organization of joint events.

A memorandum of understanding on space cooperation was also signed by the French Space Agency (CNES) and the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI). The two institutions are seeking to develop institutional space cooperation on the occasion of the Year of France in Korea 2015-2016. The agreement is aimed at launching cooperation actions in the areas of space science, exploration, Earth sciences and innovation. It also provides for an exchange of personnel.

Academic cooperation

Our academic cooperation is strengthening and becoming institutionalized. Around 7000 Korean students are studying in France, making France the eighth-largest host country of Korean students and the second-largest in Europe after the UK. There are almost 70,000 students of French in Korea. A Centre for studies in France (CEF) was created in 2006. It aims to promote French higher education, personalized guidance and individual follow-up to help Korean students prepare their study stays in France. A Korean Studies Chair was also established at Sciences Po Paris in 2006. The project to build a Maison de la Corée [Korea House] at the International University Campus in Paris was endorsed in 2014.

75 engineering schools from the “n+i” network signed a framework cooperation agreement in 2009 for the award of dual master’s degrees in engineering sciences, with six of the best Korean universities: Seoul National University, Hanyang University, Sungkyunkwan University, Sogang University, Inha University and Ajou University which all belong to the Korea Engineering Colleges Consortium for International Exchange (KECC-KoFRa consortium). This agreement enables, initially, member institutions of these consortiums to host students for a period of three semesters including an internship in a laboratory or a company. The two consortiums also intend to develop exchanges of teachers and researchers.

The Working Holiday Agreement that has been in force since 1 January 2009 boosts exchanges and mutual understanding between young people of both countries.
During the French President’s visit to Korea on 4 November 2015, an administrative arrangement was signed on the mutual recognition of qualifications and studies for the pursuit of studies in the partner country. This agreement should facilitate mutual exchanges of students. By clarifying the equivalence of foreign degrees, it will also help structure and develop the offer of dual degrees and supervised programmes.
A number of other education agreements signed during the visit will also help develop academic exchanges between France and Korea (Memorandum of Understanding between the Conference of University Presidents (CPU) and the Korea Council for University Education (KCUE), Memorandum of Understanding between the Board of Directors of the University Institutes of Technology (ADIUT) and the Korea Council for University College Education, Agreement between the National Institute of Applied Sciences of Lyon (INSA Lyon) and the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), and a Declaration of Intent on vocational training).

Cultural relations

The opening of the French Cultural Centre in Seoul in 1968 and the Korean Cultural Centre in Paris in 1980 were highlights in the history of cultural relations between our two countries and fostered better mutual knowledge.

France and Korea are both committed to defending cultural identity, as shown by the adoption of the 2005 UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, a Franco-Canadian initiative, with the support of Korea.

Korean popular culture is increasingly successful worldwide. It is known as “Hallyu” or the “Korean Wave”. Korean cinema, which is dynamic and one of the few to compete with American cinema on its own soil, is enjoying unprecedented success. Korean film directors have been acclaimed at major film festivals including Cannes, La Rochelle and Deauville. The Korean films which have had significant impact in France include Old Boy and Thirst by director Park Chan-wook, which respectively won the Grand Prix at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival and the Jury Prize at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival; Secret Sunshine, by Lee Chang-dong, starring Jeon Do-yeon, won the Award for Best Actress at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival; Poetry, also by Lee Chang-dong, won the Award for Best Screenplay at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival; and Hahaha by Hong Sang-soo, which won the Un Certain Regard Prize at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival. Safe, by Moon Byoung-gon, won the Short Film Palme d’Or at the 66th Cannes Film Festival in May 2013. A film coproduction agreement was also signed by the two countries in 2006.

The enhancement of the Guimet Museum’s Korean collection (the exhibition space was increased in the 1980s to display around 1000 items); the opening, in 2002, of the Korean Garden of the Jardin d’Acclimatation in the Bois de Boulogne with a surface area of more than 4000 m²; the organization, since 2006, of an annual Korean Film Festival in Paris (FFCP); and the emergence of many publishers that have launched South Korean collections (Actes Sud, Zulma, Seuil, Philippe Picquier, l’Harmattan, etc.), have increased the French public’s awareness of Korean culture.
Likewise, French literature has had considerable success in Korea with authors who are now well-established. Literature for youth has become very popular among Koreans. France, with 820 books translated in Korea, ranked fourth in 2008 in terms of foreign books, ahead of Germany. It was the guest of honour at the Seoul International Book Fair in May 2010. French authors well known in Korea include Bernard Werber, Marc Lévy, Hervé Tullet, Sophie Audouin-Mamikonian, Martin Page, Christine Jordis and J.M.G. Le Clézio, whose work has been translated almost entirely into Korean. Korea will be the guest of honour of the Paris Book Fair in 2016.
During the French President’s visit to Seoul on 12 November 2010 a solution was found to the issue of the Korean royal Uigwe manuscripts kept by the French National Library (BnF). These 297 manuscripts were brought to France during the maritime expedition conducted by Admiral Roze in 1866, in retaliation for the execution of nine French missionaries and several thousand Christians. Korea had been asking for their return since 1991. The French and Korean Presidents issued a joint statement according to which France undertook to lend Korea the manuscripts for a renewable period of five years, in exchange for the periodic return to France of part of these manuscripts during cultural events on Korea, in particular during the 2015-2016 cross cultural years between the two countries. The intergovernmental agreement implementing this statement was signed in Paris on 7 February 2011. All manuscripts were returned to the National Museum of Korea in June 2011.

During the French President’s visit to Korea on 4 November 2015, an administrative arrangement was signed on cultural and artistic cooperation, to strengthen the cultural exchanges initiated during the Year of France in Korea 2015-2016.

Updated: 25/01/2016



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