Posted : 2017-09-27 15:57
Updated : 2017-09-27 21:41

Uzbekistan-ROK relations: where is it and where to go?

Ustyurt Gas Chemical Complex. / Courtesy of Embassy of Uzbekistan

Akhror Burkhanov, chief research fellow at the Center for International Relations Studies, contributed the below article. — ED.

"The Republic of Uzbekistan and the Republic of Korea having 25 years of diplomatic relations behind have established true friendship ties, a strong relationship of strategic partnership and constructive dialogue on all issues on the bilateral agenda, as well as in the framework of international organizations", said the President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev in a message sent to congratulate Moon Jae-in on his election to the post of President of the Republic of Korea.

These words are not a declaration, but a true reflection of real cooperation tested by time — the phenomenon of traditional partnership between Uzbekistan and South Korea. Two countries bear strategic importance to each other and are the biggest partners in their respective regions. Uzbekistan has been the main trade partner of ROK in Central Asia, received the biggest share of Korean investment in the region, and is home to the largest number of ethnic Koreans. There have not been so intense contacts of Seoul with any other countries of Central Asia as with Uzbekistan.

There is a special atmosphere in bilateral relations this year — 25 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations. New presidents took office in both countries, who confirmed strong commitment to further strategic partnership. Tashkent still remembers that ROK was one of the first countries to recognize the independence of Uzbekistan, establish diplomatic and economic relations, and direct investment to Uzbek economy. In return, Seoul highly values Tashkent's principal position on denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, openness to fruitful cooperation with the Republic of Korea from the first days.

Over the past period of a quarter century, the number of summits of heads of state reached 14 and more than 150 documents have been signed. The joint declaration on strategic partnership, signed in 2006, has raised bilateral cooperation to a qualitatively new level.

Moreover, parties established strong institutional cooperation. Formats like Intergovernmental Commission (since 1994), annual meetings of the Ministry of Finance (since 2012), joint committee on e-government (since 2012), and regular meetings of deputy ministers of foreign affairs (since 1995) have been enriching bilateral relations. The annual forum "Republic of Korea — Central Asia" (since 2007) serves as a catalyst for South Korea's cooperation with CA.

The Republic of Korea emerged as an important economic partner of Uzbekistan. The trade turnover between parties averaged at $2 billion over the last five years, making ROK a top five trade partner. During the first half of 2017 turnover increased by 13 percent. Most of the goods and service exchange goes to technological spheres like the automobile industry, electronics and others.

Over the last 25 years, Uzbekistan has become the leading recipient of Korean investments in the region. The volume of investments has exceeded $7 billion. Such areas in Uzbekistan as energy, infrastructure, manufacturing and ICT are the most attractive to Korean investors. A completely new industry for Central Asia — automobile manufacturing was created in Uzbekistan with the assistance of South Korea. Nowadays, there are 461 enterprises with Korean capital in Uzbekistan and 75 Korean companies are accredited. Korean companies are engaged in construction of such big projects as a new international passenger terminal of the Tashkent airport.

One of the demonstrative examples of joint cooperation that deserves special attention is the $4 billion Ustyurt Gas Chemical Complex on the basis of Surgil Field, the largest in Central Asia. The President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev and then Prime Minister of the Republic of Korea Hwang Kyo-ahn together opened the Complex on May 21, 2016.

Two states also managed to establish phenomenally strong cooperation also in cultural and educational spheres. The first South Korean university abroad was opened in Uzbekistan in 2014 — Inha University in Tashkent. There are regular intense exchanges of cultural delegations in both directions, weeks of Uzbek and Korean culture in both countries. Currently, Korean language is taught in 12 higher institutions and 28 schools of Uzbekistan. About 100,000 Uzbek citizens study and work in the Republic of Korea.

Increasing Uzbek-Korean cooperation is warmly welcomed by both nations. The people's diplomacy between us has rooted much earlier than official diplomatic ties. We can find the proof in historical artifacts found that show existence of strong bilateral communications thousands of years ago.

Currently, Uzbekistan is home to the largest number in Central Asia ethnic Koreans — about two hundred thousand, who were deported in 1937 against their will to the heart of Central Asia without any means of existence. During those tough times Uzbeks welcomed their Korean brothers and sisters with open hearts, shared their bread, and accepted them without discrimination.

It is impossible to forget those really warm human relations, which showed the bigheartedness of the Uzbek people, who extended a fraternal helping hand to Uzbek Koreans in their most difficult days. Since then, Uzbeks and Koreans have been living in harmony standing shoulder-to-shoulder, head-to-head.

Remarkably, the mayor of Seoul, Park Won-soon paid an official visit to Uzbekistan to open the monument dedicated to the 80th anniversary of the Korean diaspora in Uzbekistan. The monument states "Marking the 80th anniversary of the deportation, we deeply thank all Uzbekistanis for warmly welcoming the Koreans." These words resemble true brotherhood and a direct bridge between two friendly nations. In short, strategic partnership between Uzbekistan and South Korea is a new phenomenon of excellent cooperation on the Asian continent, a true example of a mutually beneficial partnership. Many things have been done, many achievements and results. Therefore, is that all? Where to go further? What areas are unexploited or underexploited?

The leadership of Uzbekistan demonstrated a truly pragmatic and practical approach in establishing cooperation with foreign partners. Innovation, technology and progress are key components of further development. "The Strategy of Actions for the development of the Republic of Uzbekistan along five priority areas in 2017-2021" marked a qualitatively new approach to the system of strategic planning of state and social development.

For the first time currency liberalization occurred on full market principals, the Uzbek Government created special interagency commission to significantly update its rating on World Bank's Doing Business by 2022 from current 87th place to 40th; a completely new institution of Business Ombudsman was established, decreased or abolished import and export tariffs for several hundred goods. All of these started a new phase of strategic development for Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan, being at the heart of Central Asia — with rich human and natural resources and an enormous underexploited potential market, is opening its doors wider to the world than ever before, creating an unprecedented level of comfort to foreign investors, fueling ‘the engine of economic activity' with exceptional quantity and quality of ingredients, launched an irreversible process of cardinal reforms of all areas.

In this important time, Uzbekistan hopes that bilateral relations with the Republic of Korea will be even deepened, strengthened and enriched with new ingredients, many of which should be clear during the first summit meeting of the new presidents of both countries later this year.

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