x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

South Korea expects to strengthen UAE ties

During Mr Lee's presidency, Samsung helped build the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest tower, while vehicles made by Hyundai and Kia have become a common sight on the country's roads.

As a former captain of industry, the South Korea president, Lee Myung-bak, will have watched with satisfaction as his country's chaebol - a large, family business conglomerate - staked a claim in the UAE's growth story.

During Mr Lee's presidency, Samsung helped build the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest tower, while vehicles made by Hyundai and Kia have become a common sight on the country's roads. Few homes are without Samsung or LG appliances, too.

Now, as Mr Lee this week makes what is likely to be his final visit to the UAE before his five-year term in office ends in February, both nations are seeking to accelerate the broadening swath of commercial ties beyond trade.

"Mr Lee is a former CEO of a construction company so construction has been a particular area of focus for him," says Sang Hyun Lee, the director general for policy planning at South Korea's ministry of foreign affairs and trade. "But the UAE-Korea partnership is quite strategic and I expect it to continue over the coming decades."

Examples of the growing sophistication of relations came in 2009 when a consortium led by Korea Electric Power Corporation (Kepco) won a US$20.4billion (Dh75bn) contract to build four nuclear reactors in the UAE. In March, Korea National Oil Corporation and GS Energy, two Korean oil companies, secured exploration rights to develop three oil fields in Abu Dhabi.

To some extent, the two economies have a lot in common. Both have developed fast to become global players in recent decades. But while the UAE's development has been propelled by oil wealth, South Korea has had little resource base to fall back on. As a result, it has had to carve out new industries from scratch. It has established itself as a world leader in the building of everything from ships to cars to mobile phones, something the UAE aims to emulate.

tarnold@thenational.ae