Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan receives a ceremonial welcome on his arrival at the Seoul National Cemetery. Image Credit: WAM

Abu Dhabi: A strategic partnership between the UAE and South Korea is set to deepen as His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, started a state visit to the Asian innovation powerhouse on Tuesday.

Both countries are looking to enhance cooperation in various fields such as 5G technology, information technology, security, defence and energy.

When South Korean President Moon Jae-in visited the UAE in March last year, his admiration for the country was palpable.

“More than anything else, it is truly meaningful for me to visit the land that achieved the Miracle in the Desert through unceasing endeavours for reform and innovation as well as socio-economic progress,” he said.

The phrasing was no accident — Moon was drawing a direct parallel between the UAE’s journey and the Miracle on the Han River, a period of startling economic growth after the 1950-53 Korean War that saw South Korea ascend from a developing to a developed country.

After Moon met Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed, the two countries signed an agreement to establish a Special Strategic Partnership.

The two leaders’ visit to the historic completion ceremony of the first unit of the Barakah nuclear power plant showed the strength of the friendship they forged together.

Korea Electric Power Corporation (Kepco), a state-owned energy company, won a $25 billion contract to build the Barakah plant, the first such facility in the Middle East.

When the construction of the four Barakah nuclear power reactors is completed, they will generate one fourth of the total electricity in the UAE.

While diplomatic relations between UAE and South Korea first began in 1980, the Barakah plant was the driving force behind forging the special strategic partnership between the two countries.

Though South Korea has made good presence in the UAE market in mobile phones, electronics and cars, the major Korean industries in the UAE are construction and engineering. Many world-class Korean companies are doing business in the field of engineering procurement construction for infrastructure and plants.

According to data provided by the South Korean Embassy, the UAE is currently the country’s 16th-largest trade partner, with trade totalling US$15 billion (Dh55 billion) – an increase of 16.5 per cent over 2016.

The UAE will be a very crucial market for Korean companies over the next few years as Expo 2020 Dubai is just around the corner.

With more than 20 flights per week between Korea and Abu Dhabi, more than 200,000 Korean tourists are flying to the UAE every year. Moreover, travellers enjoy visa-free travel on both sides.

There are 13,000 Koreans working and living in in the UAE, with about 170 major South Korean companies operating in the emirates. Most Korean expats are professionals in industries such as nuclear power, oil, gas and construction.

In e-government, Korea is helping to export its state-of-the-art technology in custom clearance to help reduce waiting times of cargo. The UAE is interested in introducing those kind of user-friendly systems.

Korea is also helping the UAE government set up an electronic patent system for handling patent-related affairs.