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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

UAE and South Korea to expand collaborations during President's visit

Healthcare, nuclear and tech are some of the areas both countries plan to work on in the near future

Hong Jin-Wook, Director General, African and Middle Eastern Affairs Bureau, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Korea. Antonie Robertson / The National
Hong Jin-Wook, Director General, African and Middle Eastern Affairs Bureau, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Korea. Antonie Robertson / The National

One is the world’s seventh greatest producer of oil. The other is a pioneer of nuclear energy and technology. And this week the UAE and South Korea will come together for a landmark summit to discuss the ways the two countries can collaborate.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in arrived in the Emirates on Saturday for a four-day visit where he is expected to explore opportunities between the two countries in the realms of energy, healthcare, science, space and technology.

“Peace and stability of the Middle East, a strategic hub of natural resources like petroleum, gas as well as global free transportation between continents, is very important not only to Korea but also to the international society as a whole,” said Jin-wook Hong, director-general of the African and Middle Eastern Affairs Bureau at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Seoul. “We pay attention to the leading role of the UAE in strengthening the stabilisation efforts in the region, especially in the field of economic reforms or liberalisation and the various political and security efforts including those in overcoming violent extremism.”

Speaking to The National, Mr Hong said both countries were preparing themselves for the forthcoming global challenges, such as climate change, the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the fluctuation of crude oil prices.

“Korea is a country without any meaningful natural resources,” he said. “And for Korea’s industrial development, what is most indispensable is energy, from petroleum to natural gas. The UAE is one of the most important suppliers of such kind of energy.”

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Korea has long put an emphasis on educating its population.

“That’s why we were able to look for a chance to help our friends in the Middle East build their infrastructure, like nuclear power plants, bridges, roads and send more than hundreds of thousands of Koreans to the region who worked diligently on construction sites.”

There are plans to send more Koreans to work in the medical sector at Sheikh Khalifa Speciality Hospital in Ras Al Khaimah, where 70 doctors and 130 nurses from Korea already work.

“In the past, most Koreans who worked in the UAE were construction workers but now, they’re more skilled labourers like doctors, nurses and several hundreds of air crew,” Mr Hong said. “A UAE-Korea joint committee was also held this month to discuss ways to expand and diversify the cooperation and a joint research institute is being discussed to open at Khalifa University in science and space.”

Economics, culture, energy and technology are areas both countries are expected to focus on during the president’s visit.

“This coming visit will consolidate and strengthen ties between both countries, not just in nuclear but other future sources of energy,” said Yong Ik Kwon, director of foreign media relations at the Korean Culture and Information Service. “We have a lot to learn from the UAE because, even though it is the seventh largest oil producer in the world, 30 per cent of its GDP comes from oil and other sectors like aviation and finance. So that’s the way we can learn from the UAE, by diversifying the economy and not just relying on oil, and planning for the future.”

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Analysts said that, although the UAE is crucial for South Korea’s future energy security with its oil, the relationship has progressively become multifaceted with both countries looking towards each other as vital to their future progress.

“The two countries became strategic partners in 2009 when South Korea won a $20 billion contract to build four nuclear reactors in the UAE, including the world’s largest single nuclear project in Abu Dhabi’s Barakah Nuclear Power Plant,” said Sabahat Khan, senior analyst at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis.

“South Korea also maintains a special forces unit in the UAE, which shows how important the Emirates has become to its own national interests. Economics underpin UAE-South Korea ties as trade continues to grow – in automotives and electronics, especially, where South Korea has become a world leader, but also in areas such as infrastructure, education, health and beauty, and agriculture.”

In terms of learning from each other, he said South Korea has made massive strides with technology and innovation in manufacturing – in electronics, space, nuclear energy, higher education and defence, all of which are a massive focus for the UAE as it continues to develop robust non-oil sectors in the economy and realise its future vision.

“South Korea’s deep relations with the UAE are unprecedented for Seoul in the region, possibly the world, and the UAE rates South Korea very highly as a trade partner and strategic ally,” Mr Khan said.

“We can expect to see lots of positive and important outcomes from the important visit of the president in relation to promoting trade and investment, but also deepening collaboration in defence, higher education and infrastructure development.”

Politically, both countries are aligned on the same global issues regarding maritime security, counter-terrorism and the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. “They face rogue states, Iran and North Korea, which are cooperating on long-range missiles,” said Dr Albadr Al Shateri, politics professor at the National Defence College. “This will draw the UAE and South Korea together in facing a common threat. “

Healthcare will prove vital too as Korea plans to expand its medical horizons. “Not just in traditional fields of medicine but to include anti-ageing and to make people live a healthier life,” Mr Kwon said. “We’re moving into the ageing society so people are focusing more on these issues and we’re very competitive in this field.”