A strategic partnership between the UAE and South Korea began in 2009 and the relations between the two countries is the best it’s been since ties were established in 1980, says Park Kang-ho, South Korean ambassador to the UAE.
Since 2009, leaders of the two nations have held nine summits, with six state visits of South Korean presidents to the UAE and three visits of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, to South Korea.
A South Korea-UAE Joint Economic Committee meets biennially to enhance the economic cooperation between the two countries. Significant progress was made at last year’s meeting in Abu Dhabi, says Park.
“Joints efforts to modernise the UAE’s Intellectual Property system are ongoing,” he says. “In the customs area, a Mutual Recognition Arrangement of the application of the Authorised Economic Operator was signed this July. If this is entered into force next year, authorised traders in both countries will get benefits such as speeded up customs procedures.”
The trade relationship between the two countries is also booming, according to figures from the South Korean embassy. In the first half of 2017, South Korea’s exports to the UAE were valued at $2.95 billion (Dh10.8 billion), a 4 per cent increase on the same period in 2016, while the UAE’s H1 exports to South Korea grew 47 per cent to $4.29 billion in 2016.
South Korea has established an unparalleled partnership with the UAE in many spheres such as energy, national defence, security, infrastructure, health, and education, which is unprecedented in its relations with Middle Eastern countries,” says Park.
In 2009, marking the start of the 100 year strategic partnership, South Korea and the UAE inked a $20 billion deal to create the world’s largest single nuclear project, the Barakah Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) in Abu Dhabi’s Al Dhafra region.
Last month, Suhail Mohammad Faraj Al Mazroui, UAE’s Minister of Energy, told reporters that the 5,600 megawatt-capacity facility is 96 per cent complete and on track to be opened next year.
The joint venture between the two state energy corporations - Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) and Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) holds great significance, says the South Korean ambassador.
“KEPCO’s expertise in nuclear power plant operation, combined with ENEC’s world-class management skills, will not only help the BNPP’s successful and safe operation, but also be crucial to the two countries’ future collaboration,” says Park.
Defence is another key area of cooperation. At this month’s Defence and Security International Exhibition in London, the Commander of the UAE Air Force and Air Defence, Major General Staff Pilot Ebrahim Nasser Al Alawi, said the UAE values its strong ties with South Korea as it is technologically advanced and has a good reputation in the field of military manufacturing.
Healthcare also offers mutual benefit. According to the Korean National Tourism Office, UAE nationals have the highest average spend among medical tourism patients at $10,557 per visit. In 2016, 3,560 Emirati tourists visited South Korea for medical purposes.
Here also, in the Shaikh Khalifa Specialty hospital in Ras Al Khaimah, more than 200 South Korean staff have been providing quality medical services to UAE citizens at home.
Cultural exchange is a notable area of cooperation, especially since the signing of a MoU in March 2016 and the opening of the Korean Cultural Centre, the only one in the region.
“Cultural exchanges between the two countries are becoming more diverse and more active, and now we see cultural activities like performances, art exhibitions, film festival, food events, and other interactive programmes,” says Park.
The annual highlight, the Korea Festival, will open on October 25 at the National Theatre in Abu Dhabi, and will feature contemporary dance, a children’s musical and K-Culture in Motion.
The UAE is home to roughly 13,000 South Koreans and 170 major South Korean companies. The embassy says around half of these are based in Abu Dhabi and half across other emirates. Most South Korean expatriates are professionals in industries such as nuclear power, oil, gas, and construction.
Korean expats in the UAE are overwhelmingly positive about their experiences here and their contributions to the UAE economy.
“When I go back to Korea I’m confident of continuing to build bridges between UAE and Korea for business purposes,” says Julian Kim, a business development manager in the financial services industry in Dubai, adding that he values the connections he’s forging here as an expat.
Eunjee Kim, who works in External Relations at the Korean Cultural Centre, is also pragmatic about expat life here. “I’ve been in this country for eight years now, and I am happy living here,” she says. “I do miss my country from time to time, but not enough to make me want to go back. If there comes a time when I miss living in Korea so much that I can’t stay here any longer, then I will return.”
Young woo Jun, a director at Etisalat, also has no plans to leave until his children finish school.