The first contact by wandering seafarers or drifters happened in 1226 by Prince Ly Long Tuong; he sailed 3,000 km to Ongjin, Hwang-Hae Province, Korea. Soon the fierce Mongols invaded Korea and this foreign prince and his subordinates fought against them very bravely, shoulder-to-shoulder with Korean forces. And Korea won against Mongols. The Korean king knighted this foreign prince and he became a Korean. The family clan, Lees of Hwasan, are descendants of this Prince.
The second contact by seafarers or drifters happened in 1612. A group of Vietnamese and Chinese merchants drifted to Cheju island, as recorded in The Annals of the Choson Dynasty. Not many details of the incidents are known but all of them are believed to have been killed by local government officers and employees who coveted their goods.
The third contact was in 1687 by a Korean seafarer, Ko Sang Young. He drifted to Hoi An, Central Vietnam. A Korean scholar, Chung Dong You (1744-1808) recorded Ko¡¯s adventure in his book Record for Eternity (ñ¸çµøº). Chua Nguyen, the ruler of the Southern Vietnam, interviewed Ko and asked him whether Koreans were aware of the murder of the crown prince of Vietnam.
While the contacts by seafarers of drifters were rather dramatic but very rare events, unofficial, haphazard contacts between diplomats visiting Peking were more frequent ones. If we hold on to recorded incidents of such contacts, the first was in 15th century between a Korean diplomat and Le Thi Cu of Vietnam¡¯s Le dynasty. This contact is recorded in Unorganized Journal of a Folk Story Collector.
Another diplomats¡¯ contact in 1597 between Lee Su Kwang and Phung Khac Khoan shows intellectual friendship between two ¡°globalized¡± elites. They were both visiting Peking to commemorate the Chinese emperor. Lee wrote a preface to the commemoration poem by Phung Khac Khoan. This friendship is recorded in The Annuls of Vietnam. Lee Su Kwang, by writing classic Chinese, discussed with Phung Khac Khoan on the climate, traditions, history, the examination system for recruiting state bureaucrats of Vietnam. Lee recorded this discussion in his Collected Works.
In the 18th Century, the diplomats¡¯ contacts happened more frequently. One example is that between Hong Kye Hee and Le Quy Don in 1761. Another example is between Seo Ho Su Phan Huy Ich in 1789. Le Quy Don recorded his friendship in his Bac Su Thong Luc and Kien Van Tieu Luc; thus this contact has been well known in Vietnam. On the other hand, Seo recorded his contact with Phan in A Travel to Peking, which Seo wrote afterwards.
Unofficial contacts continued through into the early 20th Century. Phan Boi Chau, who was the leader of Vietnamese independence movement at that time, wrote The Loss of Viet Nam in 1905: this book got immediate attention from Korean intellectuals and three translated versions were published soon. In his Memoirs, Phan Boi Chau also referred to Cho So Ang, one of the key figures in Korean independence movement, as a member of The Alliance of East Asia, a political organization led by leftist intellectuals of China and Japan; Phan Boi Chau was a member. And we can comfortably assume that Phan personally knew Cho.
Official diplomatic relationship began only in the latter half of the last century. However, because of the radical change of Vietnam, two totally different relationships had to be opened.
Vietnam was divided by the Geneva Conventions concluded in July 1954. The 17th parallel created two countries: North Vietnam and South. In the South, the first government led by Ngo Dinh Diem was set up in October 1956; the Korean government made a treaty of amity with the South immediately, that is, in October 1956. It was a product of the white-hot Cold War, focused on international politics and military alliance. In fact it was a friendly relationship with the Southern half and implies enmity against the Northern half. Korea¡¯s entry into the Vietnam War in the 1960s was only a natural conclusion of this political-military pact. This abnormal relationship ended when the Southern regime collapsed in April 1975.
The second diplomatic relationship opened only after 17 years. Korea and the unified Socialist Republic of Vietnam got into formal relationship in December 1992. This time two countries are focused on economic cooperation, shunning away from political-military aspects.
The present relation is unthinkable if the economic cooperation is ruled out. There are some deeply-rooted backgrounds for the rapid development of economic cooperation. First is Vietnam¡¯s drive for economic opening and growth, as is clearly manifested in the principle of Doi Moi, adopted in 1986. Second, Korean economy gears up overseas investment and needs natural resources.
Also, the rapid increase of Korean sightseers visiting Vietnam is also worth our attention. A Korean airline recently invested millions of dollars to introduce Ha Long Bay¡¯s beautiful scenery to Korean people. More and more Vietnamese people are visiting Korea as well.