Gulf-Korean Relations in a Turbulent World

 - Let me share with you this story of heritage.

 shoe manufacturer sent two marketing experts to a remote desert country to study the prospects of marketing its shoes in that community.  After some time, the first expert sent a telegram back to the company's headquarters saying:

"People here don't wear shoes, our presence is a waste of time and money," while the second expert researched his telegram saying: "People here don't wear shoes... So we have a great opportunity to market our shoes."

- Gentlemen, we come from distant lands and different customs from you, and the lesson of this story is that the difference between peoples creates an important opportunity for integration, knowledge and prosperity.

- I have been invited today to talk about the economic relations between the GCC countries and the friendly Republic of Korea, but in order to understand the foundations on which these relations were built and to look forward to their future, we must pause and look at GCC-Korea cooperation in its historical context and political framework.

- Rarely in international relations do you find a group of different countries that absolutely agree that they have no issues with a foreign country.  Here I am talking about the six GCC countries and the Republic of Korea.

- Korea's position on Middle East issues is held in high esteem in the GCC countries. Korea's foreign policy towards the Palestinian issue and peace in the Middle East, Iran and its nuclear program, Iraq and terrorism, and Syria and the civil war there represents a wise policy towards these events and is consistent with the Gulf vision on how to deal with these thorny issues.

- Korea's principled position is highlighted by its strong stand with the GCC countries in confronting the Iraqi aggression against the State of Kuwait in 1990. Korea was one of the first countries to condemn this aggression and supported all relevant UN resolutions.

- In turn, the GCC countries support the position of the friendly Republic of Korea on its issues, especially its relationship with its neighboring North Korea and the nuclear crisis, as the GCC countries support efforts to return to the political talks table to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula and establish a permanent peace regime there.


-We truly have a beautiful story and an effective model of economic and political cooperation between the GCC and Korea. The political consensus between the two sides has been directly reflected in the economic relations.

- Our bilateral relationship has witnessed significant development in recent years, and trade exchange between the two sides has grown to the point where the GCC countries have become the second largest trading partner with Korea after China.  The volume of trade exchange between the Gulf and Korean sides doubled from about 24 billion dollars in 2001 to more than 120 billion dollars in 2013.

- This trade relationship was not limited to energy and goods, but also included all kinds of services provided by the miraculous Han River country.  The Korean economy has played an important role in diversifying Gulf economic structures, especially in the field of renewable energy, education and training, environment, healthcare, telecommunications and information technology.

- Despite the convergence of the size of the Korean economy (1.2 billion dollars with a population of 49 million) and the size of the Gulf economy (1.6 billion dollars with a population of 42 million), the foundations and opportunities for economic cooperation and integration between the two sides have witnessed an unprecedented development in recent years.

- Perhaps the most prominent developments in this complementary relationship between the two sides are:

1- The construction of 4 nuclear power plants in the United Arab Emirates at a cost of about 20 billion dollars with the participation of the Korea Electric Power Company (KEPCO), Hyundai Engineering and Construction, Samsung and Doosan Heavy Industries.

2- Construction of oil refining facilities and expansion of production capacity at the Sohar Industrial Complex in Oman won by a consortium led by Daelim Industries of Korea with a total value of $2.7 billion.

3- The Republic of Korea and Saudi Arabia signed two executive memorandums of understanding, for training doctors and applying health information technologies, where the Korean system of health information technologies is set to be exported to public clinics and hospitals in Saudi Arabia with a value of one billion dollars.

4- There is cooperation between the Qatar Investment Authority and the Korean side in a huge project to build a smart city in the State of Qatar.

- As for the economic relations between Kuwait and Korea, I can say that they are excellent and in continuous development.  Korea is Kuwait's largest trading partner and represents the first place in Kuwait's oil exports abroad.  Kuwait's imports from Korea jumped by 70% between 2013 and 2014 as a result of the magnitude of Kuwait's development programs on the one hand, and the quality of Korean products on the other.

I thank the Embassy of the State of Kuwait in Seoul for providing me with important information on the development of economic relations between Kuwait and Korea in the last four years, such as:

1- A project to build energy and petroleum facilities in Kuwait to maintain pressure in oil wells in the Burgan oil field is being carried out by GS Engineering and Petroleum, the third largest construction company, with a value of $742 million.

2- In 2013, Hyundai Engineering & Construction, Korea's leading construction company, broke ground on a $1.13 billion project to build a 60-berth container port at Mubarak Port on Bubiyan Island, which will take four years to build and represents the first phase of the project. It is also constructing one of the longest sea bridges in the world, the Jaber Bridge, for an amount exceeding 2.5 billion dollars.

3- In 2014, 5 Korean companies Samsung, Daewoo, Hyundai, SK, GS in a consortium with other companies won a project proposed by Kuwait National Petroleum Company to develop environmentally friendly systems at facilities in Port Ahmadi and Port Abdullah in addition to expanding the capacity of the oil refining and petrochemical plant in the State of Kuwait and the value of the project is 12 billion dollars.

- On the other hand, the GCC countries are witnessing a large-scale development and reconstruction movement, thanks to their huge revenues from high oil prices.  This coincides with the emergence of a trend among Gulf decision-makers to exploit this situation, which may not be repeated, to find new channels to invest the surplus oil revenues in real development projects that provide job opportunities for Gulf youth, help transfer technology and develop human wealth. For example, Kuwait recently allocated $100 billion to develop the oil sector alone over the next five years.  Hence, the opportunities for investment cooperation between the GCC and Korea are growing.

This means the need to find an advanced form of economic cooperation between the two parties, including agreement on alliances and investment partnerships to localize Korean expertise in the GCC countries with industrial projects of those in which the Republic of Korea has excelled as a superior or competitive industrialized country, whether in partnership with the Gulf side or in any formula that is acceptable to both parties, especially since the financial resources, regulations, facilities and laws in the GCC countries promise the success of such an approach if it can be implemented, whether by partnership limited to the private sector or by governments contributing shares in this, as the GCC countries enjoy financial status and capacities.

- It is essential that we work immediately to formulate a scholarship program for Gulf students to train to work in Korean factories to transfer successful models of human development in the Republic of Korea.

- Finally, bread alone is not enough to sustain human beings.  Food for the soul is as important as food for the body, and the main source of food for the soul is culture, knowledge and literature, and this comes through direct human communication and exchange of experiences.

- We happily observe the increasing number of Korean visitors and residents in the GCC countries, but we are even happier to see the significant increase in the number of GCC students in the Republic of Korea.  For example, the number of Saudi students in Korea last year reached 800 students, including 200 from Saudi Arabia and 200 from the United Arab Emirates.  Accordingly, a Saudi cultural attaché was opened, making it the first Arab and Islamic cultural attaché in the Republic of Korea.

Honorable Attendees

We are today on the threshold of a new era and a golden opportunity to push GCC-Korea cooperation to new horizons beyond the traditional frameworks in form, substance and scope. We look forward to the historic tour that Her Excellency President Park Geun-hye will undertake to the GCC countries, which we emphasize will form a cornerstone for future relations between the two parties and complete the process of integration and cooperation for the distinguished historical relations that bind the two sides. As the GCC countries are about to embark on a prosperous future at all levels in which the elements of real development are available, namely political stability and financial resources, we look forward to an influential and effective Korean role in the future, working hand in hand with the Gulf countries to achieve the required development and prosperity in the region.

We may have strange names to our Korean friends, our dress is strange to you, and our shapes are different from yours.  But rest assured that we, the people of the Gulf, hold you in high esteem and respect and echo the Korean saying, "Let's walk together."

May God protect the GCC countries and the Republic of Korea.

Peace be upon you.

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© Dr. Mohammad Sabah AlSalem AlSabah. All Rights Reserved