Korea eager to join rebuilding efforts in post-Gadhafi Libya
The government is striving to keep Korean firms’ business interests in Libya intact, eyeing further lucrative deals in the post-war reconstruction as rebels look to oust Moammar Gadhafi.
Kim Sung-hwan, minister of foreign affairs and trade, will fly to Paris to attend a Contact Group meeting on Libya slated for Thursday.
Government delegates will discuss ways to handle nation building in Libya at the Europe-led conference as a regime change is imminent. French President Nicholas Sarkozy called upon 32 nations to discuss matters related to the post-Gadhafi reconstruction.
Industry experts project the reconstruction in Libya will create business opportunities worth $100 billion.
Kim’s trip to Paris for the Contact Group meeting follows the foreign ministry’s announcement last week to fund Libyan rebels with $1 million.
Before the latest developments, the government has remained silent over the civil war in Libya to avoid putting Korean firms operating there at risk.
After their campaign to oust authoritarian leader Gadhafi gained momentum there has been a shift in its stance on the Libyan rebels.
Libya is the third largest overseas market for Korean construction firms, following Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
In 2010, Korean firms won record-high overseas construction projects worth $71.6 billion. Those in Libya accounted for approximately 10 percent.
Kang Sin-young, chief of Market Research Division 2 at the International Contractors Association based in Seoul, said Korean firms operating in Libya were deeply concerned about the possible ramifications of the regime change there.
“Many companies are closely watching what’s happening in Libya as their contracts were signed by the Gadhafi administration could now be at risk,” said Kang.
“It was a huge relief that the rebel-led National Transitional Council (NTC) committed to honor contracts signed by the old regime.”
Korean businesses operating in Libya expect the government to be more active in building strong ties with the NTC to create a more Korean-friendly climate there to profit from reconstruction contracts.
Asking for anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media over the sensitive foreign policy issue, a diplomatic source said Seoul officials have contacted the NTC to protect Korean business interests.
But he declined to give details of when and how many times they had met and what the results of the conversations were.
Major global players are divided over which authorities should take the initiative in the reconstruction effort in Libya, indicating that Seoul will need to employ careful diplomacy.
Like Korea, Europe and China are also hoping to benefit from the developments in the African nation.
European nations, which have funded rebels and recognized the rebel-led NTC as the legitimate authority in Libya from early on, are seeking a bigger slice in the reconstruction.
Daniel Serwer, a senior fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, said America would like Europe to carry most of the burden in Libya.
“European interests such as oil and gas investments as well as the possibility of mass migration out of Libya to Europe are more directly at risk there,” he said.
“It is my hope that the U.N. will define, through a Security Council resolution, a set of goals for reconstruction in Libya. Something like this: a united and democratic Libya under the rule of law that can sustain and government itself transparently, inclusively and accountably and provide the benefits of its natural resources to all of its people.”
China, which long supported the Gadhafi regime, prefers the United Nations to orchestrate the reconstruction in Libya.
“The United Nations should play a leading role in post-war arrangements in Libya,” said Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.
The world’s number two economy has initiated a flurry of diplomacy of late to protect its trade interests in Libya following a warning from Libyan rebels that Chinese oil companies would lose out after the ousting of Gadhafi because Beijing has not provided enough support to them.
“We don’t have a problem with Italian, French and British companies. But we may have some political issues with Russia, China, and Brazil,” Abdeijalil Mayouf, an information manager at a Libyan oil firm was quoted by Reuters as saying last week.
China has invested billions of dollars in infrastructure, such as rail, oil and telecommunications, in Libya.
Yang further told his Brazilian counterpart in phone conversations that China was willing to work with emerging nations like Brazil to help stabilize Libya.
Yang’s remarks were construed as China’s reluctance to allow European countries to take control.