Saudi Arabia and South Korea: Partnership for co-prosperity
By : Kim Jin-soo
On the auspicious occasion of the 4,348th anniversary of the National Foundation Day of the Republic of Korea, I am very honored to celebrate this delightful moment of the Korean people with the citizens of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Taking this opportunity, I would like to extend my sincere appreciation to the leadership of the Kingdom for great support in enhancing the cooperation and deepening friendship of Korea and Saudi Arabia.
Korea and Saudi Arabia have a rich history of exchange across the far and vast Asian continent in between. The history of exchange between the two sides dates back to the medieval era about 1,200 years ago, when Korea started trading with the Arabs through the Silk Road and sea routes, and broadened its perspectives toward a splendid new culture.
The two countries have more similarities than meet the eye, even though they are located geographically far apart. Ever since Korea was founded on the key principle of “Hong-Ik-In-Gan”, or to “benefit all mankind”, Korea has been sharing friendship and promoting mutual understanding and co-prosperity with the world community, and commemorating it on its national day every year.
This founding principle of Korea is exactly in line with the Kingdom’s basic value and sincere efforts to promote peaceful co-existence benefiting all human beings. Sincere efforts to understand other cultures through inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogues are more in demand than ever in the face of the increasingly daunting challenges that confront us.
Diplomatic relations between the two countries stretch back to 1962. Since then, relations have developed tremendously and evolved into a sold partnership. Traditional friendship and trust-based cooperation have deepened year after year in a wide range of fields. Korean companies were involved during the economic boom era of the Kingdom between the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s when hundreds of thousands of Korean construction workers were working hand-in-hand with Saudi citizens to expand and develop the infrastructure of the Kingdom.
This has, in turn, contributed to the development of the Korean economy. After celebrating the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries in 2012, bilateral ties continue to strengthen each year.
With a new era beyond the half-century of diplomatic relations, Korea and Saudi Arabia are indeed in need of uniting efforts to share their policy vision and to materialize all-round cooperation, widening mutual understanding through cultural and people-to-people exchange.
If the two countries can creatively combine the strengths of each country and take appropriate initiatives based on new ideas and initiatives, I believe that a great synergy effect will be created.
In particular, the relationship has been dramatically enhanced in the recent decade in terms of economic as well as cultural exchanges, which have been reflected in the continuously increasing trade volume, expanding investment and business activities, and reciprocal visits of high-ranking officials and citizens as well.
President Park Geun-hye made an official visit to the Kingdom in early March to unfold the hugh potential for cooperation between the two countries. It provided fresh momentum for our two countries to open a new chapter in our bilateral relations. Since the presidential visit, there have been dozens of official reciprocal ministerial visits between the two countries, which reflects the closer than ever bilateral ties and ever-increasing interests in each other’s country.
It is not surprising to learn that Saudi Arabia is the first place Korean companies look to find reliable partners for business cooperation in this region. Korean firms have increased their participation in Saudi projects remarkably in recent years.
Cooperation among companies of both countries is also rapidly expanding through the closer relationship in the private sector. Almost 200 Korean companies are represented in Saudi Arabia and they are very active in technology-intensive and value-added projects in many sectors, such as petrochemicals, desalination, power generation, information technology and communication, mobility, health and medical solutions.
Korea is ready to share cutting-edge technologies and expertise for economic development and long-term projects with Saudi Arabia. In fact, there are a number of Korean firms engaged in the industry sectors of high-end quality products, such as electronics, communications equipment and automobiles reflecting Korea’s advancement in science and technology.
Leading Korean companies are represented in the Kingdom, including Samsung Engineering, Hyundai Heavy Industry, Doosan Heavy Industry, Posco, Daelim, Hanwha, and GS Construction, which have been engaged in major projects in the fields of petrochemicals, desalinization, and power plants, to name just a few. In the industrial and trading fields there are also many Korean companies operating here, such as Samsung Electronics, Daewoo International and LG Electronics.
I am confident that there is great potential to expand ties between the two countries. The two countries have complementary economies and are eager to become closer friends.
On the trade front, Saudi Arabia is one of the major trading partners of Korea. The bilateral trade volume has leaped from $4.2 billion in 1991 to $31.3 billion in 2010, and again jumped to around $46 billion in 2014. On the other hand, the Kingdom is Korea’s largest oil supplier, making up almost one third of Korea’s total oil import.
Saudi Arabia also has significant investments in South Korea. As of the end of 2014, the total amount of Saudi investments in Korea reached more than $900 million, whereas Korea has invested more than $1.2 billion in the Kingdom. Considering the huge potential for economic cooperation, the volume of Saudi investments in Korea is not substantial compared with the trade exchanges between the two countries and with that of Saudi investment in other major trade and economic partner countries. We hope that Saudi investments in Korea will grow incrementally in the years to come.
We are willing to provide all the necessary assistance and services to the Saudi authorities concerned as well as to businessmen to find investment opportunities in Korea in mutually beneficial ways. I believe that it is now high time to enlarge the exchange program between the two countries with the prime objective of exchanging ideas and expertise, to better understand each country and its culture.
In this regard, it is encouraging to witness that interest in Korea is growing steadily in the Kingdom, whereas Saudi Arabia is increasingly in the forefront in Korea, driven by cultural interaction. South Korea is rich in experience and knowledge, particularly in the areas of human resources development, education and vocational training.
I am confident that our traditional trust-based partnership and friendship has a promising future. Among the encouraging signs is the fact that the number of students who study in each countries has dramatically increased almost as much as tenfold within the past seven years to 580 talented students studying in both countries at the moment, in addition to the almost 50,000 Koreans and Saudis who visit each other’s country annually.
These numbers tell us that the heyday of our relationship is still to come in the years ahead. Korea and Saudi Arabia are focusing on strengthening cultural and people-to-people exchanges, based on the firm belief that these are the most effective means to promote mutual understanding.
I firmly believe that our relationship based on mutual understanding will be further strengthened through people-to-people and cultural exchanges. The better you get to know your friend, the deeper your friendship can become. People-to-people and cultural exchanges are like the glue that binds us closer.
These exchanges are bridges we have built to link the hearts of our peoples – not only in the present, but well into the future.
For the younger generation, educational exchanges will accelerate the two countries to foster mutual understanding. In the field of education and vocational training, there is still much room for further cooperation, considering that Korea has almost 370 universities including high-quality vocational educational training institutions, which provided industry with the much-needed qualified human resources during the rapid development phase of the Korean economy over the past decades.
Our two countries share common grounds of universal values such as peaceful co-existence and co-prosperity, as well as traditional values such as filial piety of respect for elders, hospitality toward guests, generosity for others and a family-oriented social order.
I believe that our two countries’ friendship and special bonds will be further strengthened in the years to come. Once again, I would like to extend my sincere greetings to the leadership, government and people of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on this auspicious occasion.
Kim Jin-soo is Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to Saudi Arabia
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in the Column section are their own and do not reflect RiyadhVision’s point-of-view.