Hallyu in Morocco, the Land of Atlas
Choi Jai-chul

Korean Ambassador to the Kingdom of Morocco

Morocco is a monarchy that boasts more than 12 centuries of history. Located in North Africa, the country has a coastline on both the North Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. About 3.5 times as large as the Korean peninsula, the Moroccan territory is divided into desert and pasturage by the Atlas Mountains, named after one of Titan gods of Greek mythology. Morocco is geopolitically well located, as a middle land between Europe and Africa. It once dominated the Iberian Peninsula several hundreds years ago but its history in the 20th century is marred by colonization by Western powers.
The relationship between Korea and Morocco estranged about a decade ago when Korean companies left Africa en masse, hit by the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis. However, the bilateral ties have entered a renaissance since Korea fared well during the recent global economic crisis and accelerated its African investment. Moroccans are increasingly recognizing the growing diplomatic stature of Korea, which successfully chaired the G20 summit in November.
In the past two years, Korean pop culture has gained popularity in Morocco with TV broadcasts of Korean soap opera series such as “Dae Jang Geum” (a.k.a. Jewel in the Palace), “Shikgaek” (The Grand Chef) and “Women in the Sun.” Reflecting the growing public awareness of Korean pop culture, Morocco’s Marrakech International Film Festival, the largest film event in the Middle East and Africa, opened with Korean percussion music samulnori performance and screened more than 40 Korean movies, including “Chihwaseon” (Painted Fire) by director Im Kwon-taek, in December. Moroccans say that they are fond of Korean movies and television soap opera series as they find close linkages to the Korean way of life.
The hallyu craze in Morocco is also stimulating popular consumption of Korean industrial products, especially home appliances. Televisions, refrigerators and air-conditioners with Korean brand names are fast sold, with over 70 percent market share taken up by Korean companies in Morocco. Korean automobiles manufactured by Hyundai Kia are more popular than Volkswagen of Germany and Toyota of Japan. A typical successful middle-class household in the North African country is often depicted as having Korean home appliances, driving a Korean car and using Korean handsets. Also, a renowned Korean construction company is about to sign a US$1 billion contract to build a power plant in this country.
Even though Morocco is the world’s top exporter of phosphate rocks, the raw material for fertilizers, it lacks energy resources such as petroleum and natural gas. Ninety-seven percent of the nation’s energy needs depend on imports. To cope with the heavy energy dependency on imports, the country eyes to develop human resources and renewable energy technologies via cooperation with Korea.
With hopes to draw lessons from Korea’s fast economic development, the Moroccan government and the Korea Development Institute jointly organized a seminar in May this year on Korea’s development know-how and sustainable environment-friendly growth policies. Morocco plans to increase the use of renewable energies up to 40 percent of its domestic energy consumption by 2020, while building a 2,000 megawatt solar energy plant and wind energy complex. As the country enjoys more than 3,000 hours of sunlight annually and its average wind speed is as fast as 10 meters/second, it has enormous renewable energy potential.
Morocco, the “Atlas Lion,” aims to rise as an emerging power in the Mediterranean. Accelerating economic and technical cooperation with Korea should contribute to such a vision, with an increasing number of Korean corporations returning to the kingdom. King Mohammed VI of Morocco delivered such hope to President Lee Myung-bak in a congratulatory message for Korea’s National Foundation Day on October 3, providing fresh momentum to rejuvenate the bilateral ties between the two nations. The Maghreb state of Morocco, which is remembered with its unforgettable beauty of sunset, is calling for its Asian friend Korea, the Land of Morning Calm.
[Munhwa Ilbo, December 28, 2010]