A Look At South Korea’s Strategic Middle Eastern Partnership
The ambassador of the Republic of Korea, H.E. Yoon Soon-Gu, gave a lecture about “Korea's Policy on Middle East and Korea-Egypt Partnership," on March 22, 2017 at the American University of Cairo Middle East Studies Center.
Mr. Soon-Gu starts off the lecture by giving a brief 101 recap on Korea in the means of education, trade and international law policies. Also, he talked about the demographics of Korea and Egypt. Korea is known to be an aging population, whereas Egypt is a youthful population. Additionally, Koreans are now integrating their culture with Egyptian culture, by having Korean belly dancing. Soon-Gu mentions that both Egypt and Korea have a strong distinctive cultural heritage, because of the rich history and ancient civilizations.
Moreover, relevant statistics related to South Korea such as trade, imports and exports were shown by Mr. Soon-Gu. “Korea is a country focused on trade,” he said. Korea exports around two billion to Egypt and imports around sixty million, making Egypt, “a major trading partner in African Continents,” he added. Korea’s relations with the Middle East has grown over the past few years with trade reaching eighty billion in 2016 according to Mr. Soon-Gu. Soon-Gu adds that, “we are trying to import petroleum from the Middle East like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and more.” The major contributions from Korea in the Middle East is construction fields, Saudi Arabian oil field and bridge constructions.
The way the Middle East and Korea intertwine is through political conflicts such as, “the Syrian conflict for six years, demonstrated to the world that this is a serious concern to the world as well as fighting against terrorism and extremism,” said Soon-Gu. Additionally, he mentions that South Korea was able to export ten million dollars to Iran during the Iranian issue connected to nuclear affairs.
Soon-Gu stated there are three pillars for foreign policy, “peace, prosperity and people exchange.” There are many ways South Korea contributed with the Middle East on the basis of these three pillars. Soon-Gu tries to engage peace with the, “Middle East, for example the Korean ME cooperation from 2003-2016.” As well as the donation South Korea made with the Syrian refugees, by giving them 1,700 container boxes of aid.
South Korea’s connection with the Middle East has focused mainly on energy imports and manufacturing projects. According to Geoffrey Kemp’s book, “The East moves West,” Korean construction companies are building oil plants in Saudi Arabia and petrochemical plants. Furthermore, South Korea’s participation in infrastructural markets in the Middle East have made them profitable. According to MEED Group a business intelligence tool for the Middle East, new construction projects that are done in the Middle East are worth about $1.7 trillion, which benefits the Korean construction companies.
South Korea mostly contributed by providing infrastructures in the Middle East, “Korean companies heavily engaged in that, such as, expanding corporations in information technology, renewable energy sector and others,” said Soon-Gu. Additionally, one of the more exciting aspects of Soon-Gu’s lecture was about the largest Korean infrastructures in Egyptian history. The petrochemical plant will be located in Ain Sokhna and is scheduled to be completed next year. A journalism student in AUC, Dana Al Ansari, adds that this project, “will help people in Egypt to be developed in many more aspects.”
Soon- Gu’s lecture explains that South Korea is an important development partner. Egypt and South Korea have a cooperation portfolio for exchanging knowledge and expertise, in order to achieve social development and economic development for both countries. Thus, there is ongoing contributions between South Korea and the Middle East; development, economic, trade and cultural wise. Furthermore, the Korean projects led to improving the economy of Middle Eastern countries.