Event Recap: Australia-Korea Symposium 2018

The importance of Korea is underestimated in Australia.  

YouTube can change our bilateral relations. 

Why is all the media about North Korea? 

Some strong statements made from a room of people with a commitment to Korea. This April, the University of South Australia hosted the 2nd annual Symposium on Australia-Korea Relations. As a New Colombo Plan Alumni and Asia Option’s Korea Correspondent, I was invited to participate in the 2-day event, hosting incredible panelists and VIPs from Korea and Australia in many sectors.

The aim of this symposium was to collaborate with multi-disciplinary experts, those emerging and established, to cover a comprehensive view of different topics in Australia-Korea relations. Adelaide’s King Sejong Institute, the Australia Korea Foundation, the Academy of Korean Studies and UniSA’s Australian Centre for Asian business sponsored the program. Some of the attendees included DFAT and Austrade delegates, academics, diplomats, and even the host of a popular program at the Korean Cultural Institute in Sydney!

One key message that was repeated throughout the event was of Korea’s unrealized potential in Australia’s market for education, tourism, security, trade and investment.

Today I will share with Asia Options readers what industries are set to grow in the Korea-Australia space, suggest opportunities for you to get involved in similar discussions as well as tips on attending these kinds of events.

Current Australia-Korea Relations


Our bilateral relationship is built on a solid foundation. We are both democracies and major allies of the US, active members of MIKTA, G20, OECD, UN and East Asia Summit, as well as a history of fighting together in the Korean War.

These days there is a trend for foreigners making it in Korea, with dozens of TV shows and YouTube channels celebrating their uniqueness. But they are pioneers, still making up less than 1% of the population.

The people movement between our two countries is often short-term. Working holidays bring many Koreans to Australia each year on temporary visas, and more of us are heading to Korea on exchange and for work placements. Albeit a brief exchange, when Aussies return from a stint in Korea, the experience leaves a lasting impression.

Most people in attendance at the Symposium have either had job postings or studied at Korean universities, and are passionate in paving the way for the next generation of Korea literate Australians. Today’s youth has potential to change the perception of Korea, encouraging trends in beauty and fashion through social media that can bring change. YouTube has been called out as a key medium for cultivating interest between our youth populations. Get on the bandwagon!

There is also much to be done for encouraging more Australians to learn the Korean language. Shockingly, more Australian students are learning Serbian and Maltese at school, than Korean. Asia Options has plenty of content for those wanting to progress their Korean language either in-country or domestically, but on a national level there may be a need for institutional changes to reward non-native speakers for completing Asian language studies. The keynote speaker of the Symposium, Professor the Hon. Gareth Evans, Former Foreign Minister of Australia and Chancellor of the Australian National University was clear; we are not doing enough.


Australia and Korea are one of few countries in the world with no history of conflict and adversary. And yet, North Korea was, of course, a hot topic of the Symposium. Indeed, in my recent trip to PyeongChang, the domestic media was not as enthralled in the North as we Australians seem to be. With the tense uncertainty of the forthcoming summitry, Professor Evans assured us that a sustainable deal is achievable, but for now, Australia is a mere bystander. I suggest we focus on the ways that we can cooperate on North Korean issues beyond Nuclear goals. As two of the MIKTA counties, Korea and Australia should play to their strengths as middle power democracies by developing counterinsurgency and post-conflict policies. For those optimistic about a future unified Korea, Australia could add significant value.

Economy & Trade

Liz Griffin, Executive Director of the Australia-Korea Business Council, outlined our mutual economic significance, which is grossly underestimated. Korea is often unjustly overshadowed by China, Japan and North Korea. Is Korea not ‘sexy’ enough? They offer much more than R&D and advanced manufacturing, but Australians can’t easily identify Korea’s presence in Australia. However, they will happily watch their Hyundai A-League and KIA Australian Open on their Samsung TV under an LG aircon.

More and more Australian companies are becoming active in Korea. This year alone, Bundaberg and XXX Gold have hit the shelves. Even CarSales.Com and Macquarie bank have a significant presence.

“The ROK is Australia’s third largest export market… and Australia’s fourth largest two-way trading partner.”  Austrade, 2016 

Hearing from those investing and trading in Korea, Koreans are praised for being honorable and trustworthy, with a strong rule of assurance in business, which paired with their unparalleled technical capability and global expertise makes them ideal business partners. However, this inevitably complicates the bureaucracy of doing business. Despite the benefits, there are obvious barriers to doing business with Korea, which many Australian companies quickly find out;

“local language, culture, and business practicalities [are] the largest single barrier to conducting business in Korea for Australian businesses.” Asialink Business, 2016 

When asked to address this barrier, Australian professionals that have had successful dealings in Korea stated; “blaming Cultural Differences is a cop-out” for struggling businesses.

So, we posed the question, how to promote Korea’s contemporary image in Australia so that more Australians will consider Korea as an attractive trade & investment partner? Above many provoking ideas was the building of;

The workshops also identified some up-and-coming trends in the following sectors for Korea-Australia collaboration that any Aussies interested in Korean business should have an eye out for:

Wrap Up & What’s Next

I was invited to this symposium as a Korean Alumni of the New Colombo Plan Scholarship, but I am also a student of UniSA and the King Sejong Institute. I was the only student in attendance but felt very valued and encouraged to participate in the professional workshops. Anyone interested in getting serious about Australia-Korea relations has many avenues to connect with the community. It was stated at the symposium that; “Everyone here has a commitment to Korea”, which is why networking in this crowd is so important.

Don’t just collect business cards, make meaningful connections and follow up on your discussions with an email. For the Korean community, it is important to show your face as much as possible, to continue long-lasting relationships, whether that be with business partnerships or early networking for future opportunities.

I learned that although I want to jump into Korea straight away, there is a lot to be done here in Australia. Contact Korean institutes and Universities with Korean programs in your state and make yourself and your goals known. Follow the Korean-Australian groups on social media:

Australia Korea Young Professionals Association

Australia- Korea Business Council

Korean Cultural Centre in Aus.

To name a few.

It is evident the Korean wave is spreading. When I first went to Korea in 2015 there wasn’t anything I could find other than a Korean church teaching children Hangeul. But even in Adelaide now the Oz Asia Festival is in its 4th year, promoting Korean folk tales and stage performance, and the King Sejong Institute for Korean language and cultural studies is taking on free classes!

If you can’t find an event in your area to attend, host your own! The Australia-Korea Foundation has yearly grant applications that support initiatives that increase public awareness of Australia and Korea’s bilateral relationship, develop partnerships and increase Australians’ capacity to effectively engage with Korea.

Good luck with your own Korean journey. Keep an eye out for more Asia Options content on ways to build your Korean network from Australia!

Delegates collaborating at the Symposium

Thank you to the UniSA Business School, DFAT, and Adelaide’s King Sejong Institute for inviting me to this fantastic Symposium.

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Michelle is an engineering student in Adelaide. She was the first Korean Fellow of the New Colombo Plan, studying for 1 year in Daejeon and Seoul. Since returning to Aus she continues her love of Kareoke, Kimchi and Korean!

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