According to The National, South Korea is sending 140 soldiers as part of its rotation (or add to – see Korea Herald) of South Korean troops already in the UAE. The South Korean unit in UAE – known as ‘Akh’ (Brother) – will train their “UAE counterparts in counter-terrorist skills, such as anti-hijacking actions, and counter-insurgency operations.”
Seo Jeong Min, a professor of Middle East politics at Hankuk University in Seoul, said yesterday that opposition legislators in South Korea initially opposed to sending the troops have come to recognise the value of strengthening the countries’ strategic partnership.
“Korean companies have focused on economic co-operation [with the UAE] for a long time, but nowadays we’re trying to expand the areas of co-operation into various fields, like military or defence systems, energy and related developments,” he said.
“This kind of co-operation, the defence sector, is the weakest link we’ve had in our history so, through dispatching troops, we are trying to show our strong intention to expand our relationship.”
The chief of staff of the South Korean army, Kam Sang Ki, said last week he hoped the troops would “help increase the national status of the Republic of Korea”, using the official name for the country.
Well, there certainly has been some effort made to increase Korea’s recognition in the UAE – including the “Made in Korea Expo.” In addition Etihad Airways flies between Korea and the UAE every day and medical care and research.
How did close relationship between South Korea and the UEA come about?
The original request for South Korea to provide the UAE with special-forces training was announced after the $20 billion (Dh73.5bn) agreement in December 2009 for a South Korean-led consortium to build four nuclear power stations in Abu Dhabi emirate.
When the first troops were dispatched, the South Korean president, Lee Myung Bak, said the programme would “significantly help solidify our energy security and expand trade in the Middle East”.
President Lee was not kidding. In April The National reported:
“Korea is planning to provide training programmes for young UAE workers for the operation and construction of the power plants,” he said. “Eventually, I believe that our two nations will be able to work together to advance into a third country’s market for nuclear power plant construction projects.”
Similar joint venture investments could be on the cards in agriculture, Mr Choi said, given the heavy reliance of both countries on imported food. The UAE imports almost all of its food, and Korea imports about 70 per cent of staple grain products.
“If we work together to advance into a third country’s agricultural sector to carry out joint agricultural projects, I believe that we will not only feed both countries’ people but also create lucrative business opportunities,” he said.
It was too early to say which countries a joint investment in agriculture would target, Mr Choi said, but it would ideally be in regions that have more than one growing season a year.
Other forms of co-operation in making semiconductors, water management, shipping and small business development could also lie in the future, he said.