Korea and the UAE have chosen each other as partners on a long journey together into the future. This will include enhancing all the ties that bind – diplomatic, economic, and cultural.
For Abu Dhabi and Seoul, strong ties and a bright future
The UAE, which has been South Korea's strategic partner since 2009, is emerging as the most important hub nation to Korea in the Middle East. The UAE is the second biggest crude oil supplier to Korea, and conversely, the largest export destination for Korean products in the Middle East. Moreover, Korean construction companies have collectively won the largest volume of plant contracts in the UAE in recent years - not to mention a deal to construct four nuclear reactors in the Emirates.
Against this backdrop of positive relations, Lee Myung-bak, the president of the Republic of Korea, paid his second visit to the UAE last month.
During his visit, the two nations agreed on the joint development of oil fields in the UAE, and on mutual cooperation in future growth engines - such as system semiconductors and finance. Several important agreements were also signed, one of which outlined cooperation between the Global Green Growth Institute of Korea and the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Another understanding emerged about the formation of a strategic dialogue between our two countries' foreign ministries; and on cooperation in health care and medical services.
Clearly, all of these achievements would not have been possible had it not been based on the mutual trust and strong sense of partnership between Korea and the UAE.
But our mutual understanding won't end there. Both parties anticipate the enhancement of relations in three major ways.
First, our two nations will undertake closer policy dialogue through a wide range of existing and new bilateral consultation channels and networks. We have already established a ministerial-level joint economic committee that will discuss ways to enhance economic and trade related cooperation.
In addition, we have created a joint higher military committee that will focus on enhanced military cooperation. A steering committee to implement agreements on economic cooperation was also officially launched this year. Moreover, a new strategic dialogue committee, chaired by the foreign ministers of our two nations, will discuss major strategic issues each year.
Second, our nations can help each other and our people grow in the important fields of economic development and technology. Although our two countries have very different historical backgrounds and are geographically remote from one another, Korea and the UAE still have a lot in common.
Both countries have achieved remarkable economic growth in less than half a century and possess an enormous potential for growth, thanks in part to the vigorous investment in human development and advanced technology. The UAE has strong aspirations to diversify its industries and develop infrastructure, and is undertaking tireless efforts to cultivate outstanding talent with its ample capital and resources.
On our side, Korea is equipped with cutting-edge technologies and experience, and is focused on improving overseas ties in order to supplement the country's scarce natural resources, as well as diversifying its interests in overseas markets. In this regard, Korea and the UAE have limitless potential when it comes to complementing each other's mutual development.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, our nations ought to focus on better people-to-people and cultural exchanges. The hope is that this will lead to diverse ties that are designed to broaden and deepen how we relate to each other.
Despite our dramatically enhanced political and economic relations, we can't yet say that the people of Korea and the UAE understand one another very well. For our two countries' bilateral relations to grow and develop far into the future in a lasting and meaningful way, the people of both countries should not only strongly support our bilateral relations but they must also understand and respect each other's history, culture, religion, language and way of life.
Any effort to that end should start by promoting opportunities for citizens to visit each other's countries and to share cultural experiences. In this respect, it is highly encouraging to see recent positive developments in this area.
The King Sejong Institute, which opened at Zayed University's Abu Dhabi campus last year, is promoting the Korean language and culture. And a Korean cultural centre is anticipated to open in the UAE in the near future to showcase various aspects of Korean culture.
A new direct air route connecting the two countries' capitals was launched in December 2010 in addition to the existing one between Dubai and Seoul.
Moreover, the 6,000-member Korean community in the UAE, some of whom have been here for decades, is likely to double within four years. Such a pace of growth is expected to accelerate in the future, thereby making people-to-people exchange between our two countries broader than ever.
I am particularly fond of an old Arabic saying: "You must choose whom to travel with before embarking on a journey." Korea and the UAE have chosen each other as partners on a long journey together into the future. A strategic partnership is not realised through diplomatic rhetoric, but through cooperation on all fronts and continuous mutual exchange.
The Korean government believes that it is more important than ever to solidify our relationship and will make special efforts to do so.
Kwon Tae-kyun is South Korea's ambassador to the UAE