ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates –
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol was greeted by an honor guard on Sunday during his visit to the United Arab Emirates as he hopes to expand his country’s military sales there.
Yoon’s visit comes as South Korea makes multi-billion dollar business deals and deploys special forces to protect the UAE, an arrangement that has been criticized under its liberal predecessor. by his. Now, however, it appears the conservative leader wants to double down on those military links even as tensions with neighboring Iran have seen Tehran seize a South Korean oil tanker. in 2021.
“I think the situation in the Middle East is changing very quickly when it comes to geopolitics,” said June Park, a member of the International Strategy Forum at Schmidt Futures. “So Korea wants to make sure some strategic partnerships and components… with the UAE” remain strong.
Yoon arrives at the Qasr Al Watan palace in Abu Dhabi on Sunday. He was greeted by Emirati leader Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who took office in May after serving as the country’s de facto ruler for many years.
An Emirati honor guard dressed in traditional attire greeted Yoon and his wife, Kim Keon Hee. They rotated Lee-Enfield-style rifles with troops on camels and horses. Inside, a military band played the national anthems of Korea and the United Arab Emirates.
After the ceremony, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted Sheikh Mohammed as saying the UAE plans to invest $30 billion in South Korea. “We decided to invest with confidence in Korea that always keeps its promises under any circumstances,” he said.
The report did not elaborate.
While energy-hungry South Korea relies only on the Emirates for nearly 10 percent of its crude oil supply, Seoul has struck a series of deals that go far beyond oil with the nation of seven Muslim kingdoms with close ties. closely with Abu Dhabi. Korea’s trade with the UAE is centered on cars, materials and other goods worth billions of dollars.
The importance of the trip to Seoul can be seen in the fact that Korean business leaders attended a camel meat luncheon at the palace. They include Hyundai Motor Group Chairman Euisun Chung, Samsung Electronics Executive Chairman Lee Jae-yong and SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won.
Before Yoon’s trip, officials described the visit as aimed at strengthening ties between the two countries.
“This visit will strengthen strategic cooperation with our brother country UAE in four core areas of cooperation, namely energy,” said Kim Sung-han, national security director in Yoon’s government. nuclear, energy, investment and defense”.
On Saturday, Yonhap quoted an anonymous presidential official as saying that an arms deal was planned.
“The atmosphere is extremely ripe for security or military cooperation between South Korea and the UAE regarding the arms industry,” the official said, according to Yonhap.
Currently, South Korea has reached a $3.5 billion agreement with the UAE in 2022 to sell M-SAM, an advanced air defense system designed to intercept missiles at an altitude of less than 40 km ( 25 miles). United Arab Emirates officials are increasingly concerned about protecting their airspace after being targeted in long-range drone attacks by Houthi rebels in Yemen due to Iran. backing.
While US forces fired Patriot missiles for the first time in battle since the 2003 invasion of Iraq to defend Abu Dhabi during those attacks, the United Arab Emirates defended the their dependence on US military support since the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
But South Korea’s biggest project remains the Barakah nuclear power plant, Seoul’s first attempt to build nuclear reactors abroad. The $20 billion facility, which will eventually have four reactors, is located in the western desert of the United Arab Emirates near the Saudi border and will one day occupy nearly a portion of it. energy needs of the United Arab Emirates.
It is also key to the UAE’s plan to be carbon neutral by 2050, a commitment of particular importance as the country prepares to host the UN’s COP28 climate talks starting in November. in Dubai.
Yoon may want to assure the United Arab Emirates that South Korea wants to run for lucrative maintenance contracts after his predecessor, President Moon Jae-in, said Seoul wants to. stay away from nuclear energy.
“Energy policy has changed 180 degrees” after the election, said analyst Park. “So South Korea is now pro-nuclear and I guess the Yoon administration wants to assure the Emirs that there are no concerns about a policy change or anything like that.”
Then there is the nuclear tension with North Korea. Yoon, a former top prosecutor, became president in May with a promise to take a tougher line on Pyongyang. Until recent years, hundreds of North Korean workers were believed to be working in the UAE and elsewhere in the Gulf Arab states, providing cash flows to Pyongyang as it sought to evade sanctions. increasing sanctions on its nuclear program.
However, a crackdown has seen their numbers plummet as countries stop extending visas. A recent report by a United Nations expert noted that high-end camera equipment purchased in the United Arab Emirates ended up in North Korea, while another mentioned a citizen North Koreans living in Dubai earn foreign currency through an online app by lying about their nationality.
The United Nations also said in 2021 it has information about North Korean diplomats in Iran flying on Dubai-based long-haul airline Emirates to smuggle gold with them.