Interview with H.E. Kim Chang Beom

H.E. Kim Chang Beom is the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Korea to the Republic of Indonesia. Previously, he was the Ambassador for International Relations to the Seoul Metropolitan Government and also the Ambassador of Korean Mission to the European Union. He graduated from the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Johns Hopkins University, Washington DC, USA and Seoul National University.

Interviewed by Noto Suoneto

Noto Suoneto is the Director of Special Projects and Institutional Relations of Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia (FPCI). He is also the Secretary of China Policy Group and one of the Indonesia-Korea Young Leaders 2019. He was the Secretary of Asian Scholars and Experts Delegation to North Korea in 2018 and currently in charge of East Asian Program at FPCI partnership department.


The World Health Organization (WHO) announced on March 11th that coronavirus outbreak or also known as COVID-19 considered as the global pandemic. More and more countries are affected by the spread of this inevitable deathly virus. Governments all around the world are urged to enhance the containment and mitigation measures to protect its citizens from the COVID-19 infection. However, recently one country has garnered praise from around the world, on how the government-controlled the epidemic.

Yes, it is the Republic of Korea/South Korea. South Korea used to be the country with the worst outbreak of coronavirus outside China, but now it’s the country with the lowest casualty rates from COVID-19 in the world, at just 1 percent and the cases have dropped sharply. South Korea is a country in which people need to look up as the best lesson to learn in curbing the spread of coronavirus.

I interviewed the Ambassador of South Korea to Indonesia, His Excellency Kim Chang Beom to know how their government successfully hold the effective policies and measures to contain it.

Drive-through Testing Stations in Operation

1. South Korea’s handling of the COVID-19 threat has given hope and shown other countries a model to emulate in the midst of a worsening pandemic. How did the South Korean government manage to limit the outbreak? What type of government measures and responses were made to curb the spread of the virus?

Thank you for your compliments. Korea has adopted a unique model for responding to the COVID-19 outbreak. The key tenet of our model can be defined as “a dynamic response system for open democratic societies.” Our approach, in a nutshell, is to focus on 3Ts- Trace, Test and Treat in an extraordinary manner. The two core values of our approach are transparency and creative thinking. The Korean government is fully committed to sharing information both domestically and internationally, in a prompt and transparent manner. The Korean government has devised various ways, from daily live-streamed press briefings (simultaneous English interpretation provided, of course) to smart-phone applications, to ensure that the information reaches the citizens quickly and that detailed and accurate explanations are given at all times.

Second, we have delved into our innovative tools and come up with some best practices in our fight against the COVID-19. One of them is Drive-through Testing Stations, which has earned praise from many countries including Indonesia. Drive-through Testing Stations allows drivers to go through the process of registration and sample-taking procedures in under 10 minutes without needing to get out their vehicles. This minimizes both pressure on hospitals and transmission risks, while saves significant time and resources. There are approximately 68 Drive-through Testing Stations being operated around Korea. Korean government is covering the financial costs for related testing and treatment instead of saddling the individuals with these expenses.

Drive-through Testing Stations in Operation

2. South Korea has made a decision that lockdown is not a reasonable choice in the effort of tackling the coronavirus outbreak. As you know, the option of locking down cities or the whole nation remains a heated debate in Indonesia. What do you say on the option of lockdown approaches? What can we learn from the South Korean experiences by not using the locking down approach i.e. in the largest infected province in South Korea (Daegu province)?

It seems like a quite difficult question. As for Korea, the government believed that we must transcend the limitations of the conventional approach such as physical lockdown and isolation in fighting this unprecedented scale of infectious disease. As pointed out by the WHO, past evidences tell us that restricting the movement of people and goods during public health emergencies is ineffective in most situations.

The WHO’s recommendation is that measures that significantly interfere with the movement of people and goods during these emergencies need to be proportionate to the public health risk, be short in duration and be reconsidered regularly as situation evolves. We have taken this path from the very beginning. None of our cities are cut-off from the rest of the country. There has been no regional lockdown, only full-scale effort to contain the spread of the disease. Korea also has not introduced any entry ban on inbound travelers except those travelling from only a single, most severely affected area in China.

Our approach, in a nutshell, is to focus on 3Ts- Trace, Test and Treat in an extraordinary manner. The two core values of our approach are transparency and creative thinking.

Ambassador Kim Chang Beom

3. As news about the coronavirus outbreak stokes public fear and panic, we have started to see people take on unusual behaviors such as panic-buying of months’ worth essential supplies and non-essential medical materials. What can we take from the South Korean government transparency in these uncertain times to reassure or manage the panic and nervous public? What are the most effective tools used in South Korea to socialize the knowledge of COVID-19 outbreak?

We believed that timely, accurate and complete transparency of data is crucial in battling the virus and also combatting fear. We pursued aggressive, innovative testing that exposed even the mildest of cases in the earliest stage. The process and results of these testing, together with the steps the government is taking to curb the spread of the virus were fully disclosed to the public. There were no partial or half-truths. All hard questions were brought forth. There were no sugar-coated answers. Of course, this meant alarming number of confirmed cases in a short period of time, and at some point, Korea did appear in the chart as the country with most confirmed cases outside of China.

However, the Korean government’s rapid response involving aggressive testing and complete openness from the very start were vital in raising public awareness of the virus and reassuring the public that everything is under control. We can do up to 18,000 tests per day now, and as of March 19th, 291,120 tests are completed in Korea. This means that 1 out of around 178 people in Korea have been tested. Nowhere in the world has such a high ratio. In these uncertain times, transparency can be one of the most effective policies to reassure the public and encourage their full cooperation.

4. Despite South Korea’s effective emergency measures in handling the coronavirus infection throughout the nation, COVID-19 has significantly affected the economy, such as supply chain disruptions, the declining rate of tourists, the slowing domestic economic activities. What are the South Korean government policies in containing the economic damage wrought by this outbreak?

To combat the coronavirus outbreak in Korea, we have recently passed a 11.7 trillion won ($9.85 billion) supplementary budget. It is the biggest budget bill devoted to an epidemic in our history. We intend to execute 75 percent of the budget within the next two months, providing immediate aid to virus-hit regions and revive the momentum for economic growth. A large portion of this special budget is allocated to the particularly hard-hit regions of Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province, and stabilizing the livelihood and employment of families as well as beefing up our disease control system.

On March 19th, President Moon Jae-in also pledged 50 trillion won ($39 billion) in emergency financing for small businesses and other stimulus measures at the First Emergency Economy Conference. In addition, Korea and the US have signed a $60 billion bilateral currency swap agreement last week to relieve possible liquidity crunch caused by the global spread of the COVID-19.

5. Indonesian President Joko Widodo has announced the urgency to practice the social distancing approach in curbing the spread of COVID-19. Social distancing is justified to be a critical tool for breaking the possibility of community transmission. However, it has not been fully applied by many Indonesians due to many reasons, mostly economic-based reasons. How is the practice of social distancing approach in South Korea and how did the government effectively manage the communication and coordination between government, business and public society in adopting this approach? How did the South Korean government convince and coordinate with the businesses of the reasoning for social distancing and were there any      incentives given by the government to businesses or even workers? 

In our case, transparency and high level of public trust were pivotal in implementing the nation-wide practice of ‘social distancing’. The more transparent the government became, the more the people trusted the government. People also acted more rationally and responsibly for the good of the community at large. Many took voluntary self-quarantine and other preventive measures such as ‘social distancing’ that has effectively slowed the spread of the virus. Business community has been part of our fight against COVID-19 from the very beginning. Business representatives were often present in government meetings and press conferences.

On March 19th, the First Emergency Economy Conference presided by President Moon Jae-in himself took place at the Blue House, the Korean Presidential Office. At the meeting, numerous stimulus measures were discussed to assist the business community, especially SMEs and small merchants. President Moon made it very clear that the government is there for the business community in this difficult time and we will overcome this together hand in hand. Such assurance from the top leadership combined with concrete policies and measures to support the business community have been essential in securing their voluntary compliance and have them fully on board with the government.

Korea and Indonesia now face a common threat, the COVID-19 outbreak. Korea is sharing its experience and knowledge gained thus far with Indonesia.

Ambassador Kim Chang Beom

6. The coronavirus outbreak in Indonesia has reached many cities and provinces alike in South Korea. The role of regional government in anticipating the increasing number of infected people with the COVID-19 and managing the socio-economic impact is more important than before. How did the South Korean central government supervise the coordination with municipal authorities with regard to the anticipation towards this coronavirus outbreak?  

The central government may have the final say and issue decrees, but it is the regional authorities who are at the forefront of the battle. In Korea, the confirmed COVID-19 cases have largely been accounted for by a specific region and a single religious group outside the capital city of Seoul. As of March 15th, 88% of the confirmed cases are residents in Daegu/North Gyeongsang Province. So it is crucial for the Korean central government to have close coordination and full collaboration with the regional authorities.

Representative of business community and regional authorities take part in meetings and conferences where important decisions are made with regard to COVID-19 situation. The central government also fully backs regional governments’ decisions. President Moon has repeatedly made his support clear for some of the difficult but necessary actions taken by municipal authorities, such as urging people to refrain from mass gatherings including religious worship services.

In conclusion, Korea and Indonesia now face a common threat, the COVID-19 outbreak. Korea is sharing its experience and knowledge gained thus far with Indonesia. I firmly believe that our solidarity and cooperation will enable us to defeat our common enemy.

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