It is with great pleasure that I once again visited the Republic of Korea to attend the inauguration of its new President, Park Geun-hye.
Over the last few years, during the term of office of Korea’s outgoing president, Lee Myung-bak, bilateral relations between the two countries have made significant progress — thanks to the support both of president Lee and President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
I, and my country, look forward to further develop these relations and to strengthen the strategic partnership between the UAE and Korea during the term of office of President Park.
The ties between our two countries began in 1980, when diplomatic relations were first established. Over the next 25 years, our economic, political and cultural ties grew steadily to the benefit of both the countries.
The formation of the joint committee for economic cooperation in 2005, however, launched a new phase in their development and, over the subsequent years, there has been exponential growth in a wide range of fields.
Some of these are more familiar, such as the agreements between the UAE and Korea for the construction of our first nuclear power stations at Barakah, in western Abu Dhabi, and the awarding of oil exploration and production concessions to the Korean National Oil Company, KNOC. These are of enormous importance, both in terms of the UAE’s own ambitious plans to develop its energy sector and in terms of the growing role that Korean companies are playing within our economy.
There are other aspects of our relationship that have received lesser attention, but that are also of great importance, both now and for the future of the dynamic strategic partnership between our two countries. Those aspects include collaboration in the development of our human resources, communications and information technology and cooperation in cultural matters as well as on political and defence issues.
Some of that is reflected by trade statistics. Thus, the UAE is now South Korea’s second-largest economic partner in the Middle East and North Africa and one of the world’s largest importers from Korea. The volume of trade exchange between the two countries was $22 billion (Dh80.91 billion) in 2011 — up by nearly 25 per cent over the previous year. The UAE is a major exporter of crude oil to South Korea, and now, with the export of Korean nuclear technology to the UAE, South Korea has become an important supplier of energy to the UAE as well.
While few Emiratis live and work in South Korea, we have demonstrated our desire to inform Koreans about who we are and what we are trying to achieve through our active participation in the Yeosu world EXPO last year, where our pavilion, I am delighted to say, won plaudits for its contribution to our shared commitment to the protection of the marine environment. The film, The Turtle, which was specially prepared for our EXPO pavilion, was seen by hundreds of thousands of Koreans and has subsequently won prizes internationally.
At the same time, back in the UAE, our mutual links are developing in other ways. Zayed University, for example, in collaboration with the Korean Language Globalisation Foundation, has established the King Sejong Institute, focused on teaching Korean language and culture, not just to its students, but also to the broader community. This will help elevate our cultural relationship, as will the growing number of Korean residents in the UAE, who now total more than 10,000. Many of these residents are working for Korean companies that have already made a significant contribution to our development. Korean companies, for example, built the iconic Burj Khalifa in Dubai — the tallest building in the world.
As we look ahead, I confidently expect the bilateral relationship between our two countries to continue to develop rapidly, both in its volume and in a wider range of activities. There is much that we share, much that we can contribute to each other and much that we can learn from each other. That, after all, is how a strategic partnership is defined.
At the same time, it is important for us to look beyond the bilateral relationship to the global arena. We have shared concerns in many fields, such as those of climate change and issues related to the prevention of nuclear proliferation. The UAE and South Korea are both dependent to a large extent on overseas trade, so the promotion of greater maritime security is of crucial importance to us.
There are other global issues too where perhaps we can develop a common approach, such as the prevention of human trafficking, or the empowerment of women or the provision of humanitarian assistance for those in need, whether as a result of natural disasters or of conflict.
I look forward to being able to discuss some of these topics during my visit. We have already made great progress towards developing our relationship and our partnership. There is, though, much more than we can do in the years ahead, for the benefit of both our countries and people. I look forward to playing a part in that process.
Shaikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan is the UAE Foreign Minister. This article originally appeared in the Korea Herald.