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South Korea launches Silk Road Initiative in Central Asia

South Korea launches Silk Road Initiative in Central Asia

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol tours Central Asian countries as part of Korea-Central Asia K-Silk Road Initiative

 Monitoring Desk

The Republic of Korea has launched its Silk Road Initiative in Central Asia with its President Yoon Suk-yeol’s tour to some Central Asian countries as part of ‘Korea-Central Asia K-Silk Road Initiative.’

On June 10, 2024, the official visit of the President of the Republic of Korea, Yoon Suk-yeol, began from Turkmenistan, followed by visits to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Although Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are not on the list, it is evident that the goal of these visits is to further strengthen relations and diversify trade and economic routes connecting Korea with Central Asian countries, as noted in an editorial by the portal Orient.tm.

These efforts can be seen as part of a broader South Korean strategy aimed at strengthening ties with the Eurasian continent and creating new economic opportunities. As part of this strategy, the Republic of Korea plans to develop new platforms for enhancing cooperation, similar to the existing Business Council and the Korea-Central Asia Forum. The latter is considered an effective platform for promoting joint projects in various fields.

A key part of South Korea’s new strategy is the creation of a regular summit titled the “Korea-Central Asia K-Silk Road Initiative,” the debut of which is expected in 2025 in Seoul. This will be one of the topics of discussion during the current visit.

Strategists from the South Korean president’s administration have also stated that Seoul plans to increase its role in Central Asia by focusing on cooperation in four areas: natural resources, economic development assistance, cultural exchange, and expanding contacts at both official and private levels.

Kim Tae-hyo, the first deputy director of the National Security Office in the South Korean president’s administration, stated at a briefing that interactions with the countries in the region will target specific areas developed in each particular country, while candidly noting that South Korea is particularly attracted to Central Asia’s vast natural resources. To this end, Seoul will undertake extensive efforts and diplomatic activity.

The visit of the South Korean president includes scheduled talks with the leaders of Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan, as well as participation in protocol business forums.

Kazakhstan visit

What interests the host countries?

Of course, South Korea attracts Central Asian states primarily as a country that has become advanced through rapid development in key economic sectors and achievements in high technology.

Despite limited natural resources, the South Korean economy has established itself as export-oriented, with developed heavy and chemical industries, shipbuilding, and the production of numerous consumer goods such as electronics and automobiles. The ability to maximize trends in digital trade and related technologies makes the South Korean economy one of the most innovative and competitive in the world, making it an attractive partner.

Moreover, the country’s success can be attributed to its significant investment in education, which has created a strong pool of highly qualified labor.

All of this combined warrants the close attention of the host countries receiving the visitor.

Regarding specific bilateral relations, it is worth mentioning the active participation of South Korean giants (such as LG, TOYO, Hyundai, etc.) in the construction of gas-chemical facilities in Turkmenistan, a desulfurization complex at the Galkynysh field, and the equipment of several important facilities.

Given the wealth of Turkmenistan’s natural resources and the experience gained from working with local partners, it seems likely that South Korean companies will continue to show interest in building new plants for the production of phosphorus and urea fertilizers, as well as expanding cooperation in high-tech sectors, energy, and infrastructure projects.

One could predict the aspiration of Caspian countries like Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan to establish cooperation in shipyard modernization, ensuring digitalization and the introduction of technical innovations. However, the shallowing of the Caspian Sea (even if cyclical, as many ecologists assert) is likely to delay the implementation of such plans in the coming years, except for potential projects related to dredging technologies and works in this area.

Nevertheless, thinking about the future, the Turkmen shipbuilding plant “Balkan” and the South Korean company KSIT have signed a contract for the construction of two cargo ships with a capacity of 6,100 tons. This project is being implemented under a decree by the President of Turkmenistan, Serdar Berdimuhamedov, on the further development of the country’s national merchant fleet.

As part of the contract, Korean specialists will train their Turkmen colleagues in Korean shipbuilding technologies. Additionally, a modern quality management system will be implemented at the “Balkan” plant. The project work will be carried out considering high safety standards and environmental protection.

For Central Asian countries and South Korea, there are many other promising areas of partnership, such as developing investment cooperation, creating joint ventures, and constructing logistics and infrastructure facilities, including promoting the so-called Middle Corridor, which connects the two parts of the Eurasian continent. In the mountainous regions of Central Asia, enhancing the capabilities of the mining and metallurgical industries is also a key area.

Such economic partnership will help combine efforts to increase the attractiveness of Central Asia for external partners and ensure sustainable development conditions.

Considering the modern challenges and information-communication potential of South Korea, collaboration in strengthening cybersecurity, digital infrastructure, artificial intelligence, and implementing projects in ecology and the currently popular “green” energy sector seems beneficial.

Continuing the well-established practice of cultural exchanges and partnerships in education and scientific research appears promising.

Cooperation in these areas, reflecting common interests in deepening interactions between South Korea and Central Asian countries, will contribute to regional stability, economic growth, and increasing the competitiveness of Central Asian national economies, thereby enhancing the well-being of its peoples.

“Turkmenistan is the fourth-largest holder of natural gas reserves in the world, and specific measures to expand the presence of Korean companies in the energy sector are expected to be discussed,” Korean media wrote on Monday morning, commenting on President Yoon Suk-yeol’s departure to Ashgabat.

President Yoon Suk-yeol will spend two days in Turkmenistan before traveling to Uzbekistan and then to Kazakhstan.

c42.760x0-isKazakhstan Visit

South Korea President was in Kazakhstan on June 12. Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev stated that the first state visit of South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol to Kazakhstan was historic. The Korean leader, in response, emphasized that he was visiting Kazakhstan with great satisfaction on the eve of the 15th anniversary of the establishment of strategic partnership between the two countries, the press service of the President of Kazakhstan reports.

“South Korea is a reliable strategic partner for us. The issues on our common agenda are addressed in a business-like and constructive manner. Currently, the volume of bilateral trade has reached $6 billion. (…) Currently, more than 700 joint ventures with Korean capital are operating in Kazakhstan. Cultural and humanitarian ties are actively developing. The Korean diaspora in Kazakhstan, serving as a ‘golden bridge of friendship,’ makes a significant contribution to strengthening contacts between the peoples,” noted Kassym-Jomart Tokayev in his welcoming speech.

“Today, the relations between our states are maintained at the highest level. Many Korean companies are investing in Kazakhstan, thus contributing to job creation and industrial development. Moreover, they contribute to the modernization of Kazakhstan’s national infrastructure, participating in projects such as the construction of BAKAD and a combined cycle power plant. We intend to expand cooperation in such promising areas as the extraction of critical raw materials, nuclear energy, and renewable energy sources. Overall, now is a good moment for the two states to expand the horizons of cooperation. On the eve of the visit, the Korean government announced the K-Silk Road initiative, a cooperation initiative between Korea and the Central Asian countries. This is Korea’s first diplomatic strategy towards Central Asia,” noted Yoon Suk-yeol.

The President of Kazakhstan emphasized that today South Korea is among the top five largest investors in Kazakhstan.

“During the period up to last year, the volume of investments from this country reached $9.6 billion. Both sides expressed interest in increasing this figure. More than 700 companies with Korean capital are operating in Kazakhstan. Among them are such major corporations as Samsung, Hyundai, Kia, Lotte, Doosan, and Posco, which are successfully operating in our country. (…) Currently, Doosan Enerbility is constructing a power plant based on a combined cycle in Turkestan. Samsung Electronics plans to start producing household appliances in our country. We fully support this initiative. The company GL Ralpha intends to build a biopharmaceutical plant in Astana,” said Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

c4.730x400During the negotiations, the issue of joint exploration and extraction of rare earth metals was also discussed.

“We express readiness to continue cooperation with South Korean partners: KIGAM, SK ecoplant, which are interested in developing lithium deposits with the production of high value-added products,” noted the President of Kazakhstan.

Kassym-Jomart Tokayev confirmed the readiness to create favorable conditions for Korean companies wishing to enter the Kazakhstan market. According to him, specific mechanisms have been established for the implementation of such plans. A working group has been formed to develop interaction between the intergovernmental commission, the business council, and the business community. These structures will contribute to the strengthening of bilateral economic ties, emphasized the President of Kazakhstan.

The visit of South Korean President to Kazakhstan took place on June 12-13, 2024. Within the framework of the visit, a Kazakhstan-Korea Business Forum was held, attended by both presidents. President Tokayev called on South Korean companies to participate in the construction of Alatau City near Almaty. He also emphasized the importance of a full-fledged transfer of South Korean technologies to the oil and gas industry of Kazakhstan.

An agreement was reached that South Korea will provide Kazakhstan with technologies based on the “smart agricultural farms” principle, and both countries will strengthen the supply chain of key minerals.

Following the official talks in Astana, 11 Kazakhstan-Korea agreements were signed.

Read: Korean scientists discovered lithium deposit in Kazakhstan


Courtesy: Central Asian Light (Two reports posted on June 10 and 12, 2024)


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