Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598 Volume 33 Issue 14
Author: Giuliano Bifolchi
In an increasingly interconnected and multipolar world, the recent Busan Economic Forum has confirmed Seoul and the Central Asian republics’ interests to strengthen economic and trade relations, positioning South Korea amidst a dynamic landscape shaped by global powers such as China, Russia, and the United States, as well as pivotal regional actors like Turkey, Iran, India, and the Gulf Arab monarchies.
On August 29th, 2023, the city of Samarkand in Uzbekistan hosted the Busan Economic Forum which focused the attention on business and investment opportunities between South Korea and Central Asian republics. Representatives from the Chambers of Commerce and Industry of all Central Asian countries attended the event.
During the forum, the participants discussed the prospects for creating additional conditions for business circles in both countries in order to strengthen the trade and economic relations.
At this event, Deputy Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Jamshed Urakov, gave a presentation on “Achievements of Business Cooperation between Korea and Uzbekistan” and noted that the Uzbek Chamber is ready to become a sturdy bridge for entrepreneurs from Busan who wish to develop business cooperation and implement joint initiatives.
Previously, on October 25th, 2022, the city of Busan hosted the 15th Korea – Central Asia Cooperation Forum, a dialogue platform inaugurated in 2007 to toughen cooperation between the parties in economic, cultural and other areas.
This event marked the 30th anniversary of the diplomatic relations between South Korea and Central Asian republics. During the forum, South Korea Foreign Minister Park Jin emphasised that Central Asian nations are crucial partners in areas like energy and infrastructure. He also sought backing for Busan’s bid to host the 2030 World Expo, highlighting the city’s experience in hosting international events.
South Korea – Central Asia Relations: an Overview
Based on a foundation of beneficial economic ties and shared cultural affinities, South Korea and the Central Asian countries have developed a highly cooperative partnership ever since they established diplomatic relations in 1992.
Over the years, there have been a total of 16 summits between the Republic of Korea (ROK) and Uzbekistan, 14 between ROK and Kazakhstan, 5 between ROK and Turkmenistan, 2 between ROK and Kyrgyzstan, and 3 between ROK and Tajikistan.
Substantial strides have been taken in achieving comprehensive and diverse regional cooperation, primarily through the annual Korea-Central Asia Cooperation Forum led by Vice Foreign Ministers since 2007.
Particularly noteworthy is the establishment of the Korean-Central Asia Cooperation Forum Secretariat, a permanent body created to facilitate and enhance multilateral collaboration between the countries. This Secretariat was officially launched under the auspices of the Korea Foundation on July 10th, 2017.
Trade between South Korea and the five Central Asian countries has seen exports from Seoul amounting to $5.1 billion, while imports totalled $1.6 billion. The cumulative figure of Korean investments in Central Asia reached $5.7 billion by 2019.
The region is also home to approximately 310,000 Korean descendants, with notable concentrations in different Central Asian nations: 178,000 in Uzbekistan, 110,000 in Kazakhstan, 19,000 in Kyrgyzstan, 1,000 in Turkmenistan, and 800 in Tajikistan. The year 2017 marked the 80th anniversary of the establishment of the Korean Diaspora in Central Asia.
The recent convened symposium titled “Prospects of Korea – Central Asia Economic Collaboration,” organised by the Korea Times on June 23rd, 2023, cast a spotlight on the existing state of bilateral relations linking Seoul with the distinct nations of Central Asia. Therefore, it is possible to state that:
- South Korea is the second most important trading partner of Kazakhstan in Asia. Focused acumen lies in the domains of infrastructure, energy, and mining. The realm of Kazakhstan – South Korea joint initiatives thrives as they delve into the exploration of lithium repositories.
- Turkmenistan espouses a vested interest in the cultivation of partnerships with Korean counterparts, aimed at fostering the evolution of its national economy. An underpinning of stability characterises the economic bonds that find their focal point in fuel, agriculture, textiles, and other related spheres. The establishment of direct aerial cargo conduits between Ashgabat and Incheon significantly bolsters the exchange of trade.
- Nonstop flights connecting Bishkek and Seoul augment the potential for trade between Kyrgyzstan and South Korea. Within this context, Bishkek actively seeks the engagement of Korean corporate entities, with significant strides clear through the formalisation of notable accords, inclusive of a collaborative enterprise.
- The cooperation between Uzbekistan and South Korea is underpinned by an emphasis on the green economy, digitalisation, and social welfare safeguards. Bilateral dialogues serve as a conduit for augmenting the tapestry of relations. Uzbekistan places profound value on the support extended by Korea in furthering the advancement of Central Asia.
In summary, the recent Busan Economic Forum has underscored the mutual determination of Seoul and the Central Asian republics to fortify and elevate their economic and trade collaboration within an developing multipolar global landscape.
South Korea emerges as a significant participant, aiming to bolster its footprint in Central Asia amidst international powers such as China, Russia, and the United States, alongside key regional players like Turkey, Iran, India, and the Gulf Arab monarchies.
As evidenced by the economic forum and preceding interactions between Seoul and Central Asian nations, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan need to diversify their commercial and trade partnerships. This imperative arises from the growing influence of Chinese and Russian enterprises, which have pushed Central Asian nations to attract foreign investors and broaden their economic horizons.
The intensified engagement of Korean businesses in Central Asia might potentially align with US regional strategy, particularly given the backdrop of Washington – Seoul cooperation in countering challenges posed by Pyongyang in the Korean Peninsula.
This burgeoning Korean presence has the potential to reinforce Washington’s interests in the area and provide a counterbalance to Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative and Moscow’s Eurasian Economic Union.
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