South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol’s Five-Day Visit to Saudi Arabia and Qatar Nets US$20.2 Billion in Deals, Elevates Diplomatic Ties

DOHA - South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol concluded a five-day trip to Saudi Arabia and Qatar this Wednesday, focusing on strengthening bilateral relations and creating new opportunities for South Korean businesses in the Middle East.

According to a news release by Yonhap News Agency, the trip comes at a time when both Saudi Arabia and Qatar are actively pursuing economic diversification through projects like smart cities and high value-added industries. This offers South Korean businesses a chance to venture beyond traditional sectors like energy and construction and into newer areas such as the defense industry, advanced technologies, and shipbuilding.

The trip saw the signing of contracts and Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) totaling US$20.2 billion. This has led to optimism about a second wave of business growth in the Middle East for South Korean companies, the first wave having been in the 1970s centered around construction orders.

In Saudi Arabia, President Yoon and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman agreed to deepen the future-oriented strategic partnership between their countries. They witnessed the signing of 51 deals and MOUs, totaling $15.6 billion. These agreements included a partnership between Korea National Oil Corp. and Saudi Aramco to establish a joint crude oil reserve of 5.3 million barrels in the South Korean city of Ulsan. Moreover, Hyundai Engineering & Construction, Hyundai Engineering Co., and Saudi Aramco inked a $2.4 billion contract to build a gas processing plant in the Jafurah gas field.

Further, talks are in the final stage concerning large-scale defense industry cooperation between Saudi Arabia and South Korea, particularly in areas such as antiaircraft defense systems and firearms.

From Saudi Arabia, President Yoon proceeded to Qatar for a two-day visit, where he and Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani upgraded bilateral relations to a "comprehensive strategic partnership." This new status includes enhanced diplomatic and security communication channels as well as expanded cooperation in defense and the defense industry.

As part of this new partnership, an MOU on cooperation in munitions and the defense industry was signed, paving the way for exchanging defense industry information and establishing a joint committee.

The Qatar visit also marked a significant contract between South Korea's HD Hyundai Heavy Industries and Qatar's QatarEnergy for building 17 liquefied natural gas (LNG) carriers. This $3.9 billion contract is the largest ever in South Korea's shipbuilding history and has boosted the country's share of global LNG carrier orders from 74% to 81% this year.

Additionally, 11 MOUs spanning sectors like smart farming, solar energy, driverless cars, cultural content, medical services, and finance were also inked during the visit.

President Yoon's trip was the first state visit by a South Korean president to either of these Middle Eastern nations.

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