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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 16 November 2018

UAE's friendship with South Korea more vital than ever, summit hears

Links between nations set to enter 'new phase' amid Trump trade war and Brexit

 Kim Jin Soo, secretary general of the Korea-Arab Society, speaks during the 15th Korea-Middle East Cooperation Forum held at The Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research in Abu Dhabi. Pawan Singh / The National 
 Kim Jin Soo, secretary general of the Korea-Arab Society, speaks during the 15th Korea-Middle East Cooperation Forum held at The Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research in Abu Dhabi. Pawan Singh / The National 

A partnership between Middle East nations and South Korea is more important than ever because of the rise of protectionism and anti-globalisation elsewhere in the world, experts have said.

At a summit held in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday, examining co-operation between the regions, representatives from the UAE, Saudi Arabia and South Korea expressed their determination to forge stronger links by working more closely together in areas such as nuclear power, artificial intelligence and robotics.

South Korea, which is known for its expertise in technological innovation, was cited repeatedly as a model for the UAE to follow in its effort to grow its private sector and diversify its economy. The nations already work in partnership, for example on the UAE’s Barakah nuclear power plant, but government officials on both sides said they were ready to deepen ties.

Lee Seungjoo, a professor in the department of political science at Chung-Ang University in Seoul, said a stronger partnership is desirable because of developments in the rest of the world. He cited Donald Trump’s “America First” policies and the UK’s decision to leave the EU as events that could mean a “crisis of the international order”.

Kim Jin Soo, secretary general of the Korea-Arab Society, said it is vital that international partnerships are sustained at a time when the world faces many challenges.

“At a time of so great change we find ourselves facing many challenges, including the anti-globalisation sentiment and a return to protectionism in some parts of the world,” said Mr Kim.

“Against this backdrop international co-operation such as the one between Korea and the Middle East bears greater weight and importance.”

The event was the 15th Korea-Middle East Cooperation Forum. It was attended by dozens of ambassadors, politicians and academics.

Lee Taeho, South Korea’s second vice minister for foreign affairs, said his country was entering a “new phase of partnership” with the Middle East.

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Its commitment to the Middle East would remain “unwavering and rock solid”, he told dignitaries.

When asked whether building strong relationships with Korea had become more important since the election of President Trump, Khaleefa Al Mansouri, undersecretary in the department of economic development for Abu Dhabi, said the UAE had “eggs in different baskets from the East to the West”.

The US is currently embroiled in a trade war with China and President Trump has alienated some Muslims with controversial statements and policies.

“We have seen the right talk and the rhetoric,” said Mr Al Mansouri.

“We are evaluating. The US remains our strategic partner and it helps us in establishing partnerships with US strategic partners.

“So I don’t think there is a direct conflict, there will be a short term change in the partnership with the US. But we will see, we are monitoring how it evolves. We are in a position to play the trade game in the right way.”

Mohammed bin Saeed, an official in Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Economy and Planning, believes America will remain a strong ally.

“The US for decades has been our biggest ally and still is. I don’t think anything has changed since then,” he said.

However, Park Hun Joo, a professor at the Korea Development Institute School of Public Policy and Management, criticised US trade policies.

“Clearly, what the Trump administration is doing is causing great damage and havoc with the global system of globalism,” he said.

“We are heading towards a situation where we are trying to shoot ourselves in the foot.

“So that’s where our partnerships, middle powers, can come in to think differently, provide alternatives of organising a different kind of international society.”