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 have continued to develop constantly. During the Korean War, France, within the United Nations Command, supported South Korea. It provided a contingent of over 3,400 men who were 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 close dialogue with South Korea on major international and global issues (development, non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, climate change, etc.).

It was decided to strengthen the comprehensive partnership between the two countries in 2013 during a visit by the Korean President to France (2-4 May), with precise objectives in all the areas set out in the joint statement published during the visit.

The South Korean Prime Minister, Mr Hwang Kyo-ahn, visited France on 16-19 September 2015. The visit was an opportunity to inaugurate the Year of France in Korea. An agreement to facilitate the mobility of professionals and trainees was also signed, aimed at helping develop human and economic exchanges between our two countries.

The State visit to South Korea by the President of the French Republic, François Hollande, on 4 November 2015 gave new impetus to relations between France and Korea with the adoption of a France-Korea action plan covering all areas of cooperation.

The Minister of Urban Affairs, Youth and Sport, Mr Patrick Kanner, visited Korea from 19-21 February 2016 to deepen France-Korea cooperation in the areas of sport and youth.

The French Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, Mr Jean-Marc Ayrault, visited Korea from 23-25 March 2016 to open the French Year in Korea. He was received by the President of the Republic of Korea, Ms Park Geun-hye, and his counterpart, Mr Yun Byung-se. The first session of the France-Korea Foreign strategic dialogue was held on that occasion.

The Minister of State for State Reform and Simplification, Mr Jean-Vincent Placé, visited Korea from 16-18 May 2016.

Korean President Park Geun-hye made a State visit to France from 1-4 June 2016 for the 130ᵗʰ anniversary of the diplomatic relations between France and Korea. A joint declaration was adopted by the two Heads of State, confirming their desire to develop the comprehensive France-Korea partnership on the basis of the action plan adopted on 4 November 2015.

The Year of Korea in France ran from September 2015 until the end of August 2016, the Year of France in Korea 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 its 17ᵗʰ-largest global supplier in 2015, rising eight places compared to 2012. Aircraft industry deliveries are our leading export, followed by chemicals, metallurgy, fashion and leather goods, electronics, agrifood products and automobile products. Trade is buoyant, standing at €7.9 billion in 2015. France’s exports to Korea totalled €4.8 billion in 2015. France has a growing surplus with Korea (€1.7 billion in 2015 after a historic record of€1.9 billion in 2014, as against €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 European investors in Korea. France’s FDI stock totals €3.5 billion, making it the fourth-largest European stock in 2015, while flows vary year-to-year (fifth-largest flow in 2014, fourth in 2013). Korean investment in France remains limited (37ᵗʰ-largest investor in France, with an FDI stock of €0.9 billion).

Cooperation and cultural action

Our cooperation and cultural action with the Republic of Korea is part of the Action Plan for a 21ˢᵗ Century Strengthened Comprehensive Partnership which was adopted during the President of the Republic’s state visit to Korea on 3-4 November 2015.

The 130ᵗʰ anniversary of diplomatic relations between France and Korea coincided with the reciprocal France-Korea years 2015-2016, giving new impetus to our cooperation. Hundreds of events were organized in this framework, covering all areas of our relations including cultural, economic, scientific, academic, touristic and gastronomic sectors, from September 2015 to August 2016 in France, and from March to December 2016 in Korea.

Academic, scientific and educational cooperation

Korea’s economic success is based on a high level of education (leading country in the OECD’s PISA assessment), major use of R&D (4.2% of GDP, 2nd in the OECD) and increasing international openness (third country in the world for student mobility with more than 200,000 students abroad). In 2014, France was only the eighth-ranked country in terms of hosting Korean students, with 6,500 students studying in France. In 2015, however, this increased by 6%. One thousand French students now study in Korea every year, thanks to almost 400 partnerships between French and Korean higher education institutions.

The higher education forum organised during the President of the Republic’s state visit to Korea on 4 November 2015 and the six agreements signed on that occasion in the area of education and science, including the administrative arrangement for the mutual recognition of qualifications and studies, helped to show the importance we place on strengthening cooperation in the areas of education, academics, vocational training and research between our two countries. The signing of agreements on educational cooperation and international sections in French and Korean schools during the visit of Ms Park in June 2016 was a turning point, as is the ongoing construction of the Korea House at the Cité internationale universitaire de Paris (International University Campus in Paris).

As regards the French language, the number of Koreans studying it has fallen significantly since it has been no longer obligatory to learn a second foreign language in secondary schools. There are now about 40,000 people learning it, which is still the highest rate in north-east Asia in relation to the population. The roughly 7,000 DELF-DALF French language tests taken in Korea each year clearly show this.

The status recently granted to the Korean language, which can now be chosen as a second language in the baccalaureate like Japanese and Chinese, should give new momentum to our linguistic and educational cooperation.

Cultural cooperation

The aim of the Year of France in Korea in the cultural field is to focus on new talent and lesser-known aspects of French culture.

The cultural programme of the Year of France in Korea mainly involved contemporary creation in all artistic fields, with about 100 programmes both in Seoul and other major Korean cities.

Updated: 27 October 2016