UAE - ROK Relations
Iran and Saudi Arabia are the two great rival Middle Eastern powers. UAE is on the side of Saudi Arabia, while Qatar has close ties with Iran, which in turn has very very close ties with North Korea. The UAE terminated their military cooperation with the DPRK in 2000. In 2003 MFA Minstate Hamdan bin Zayid pledged the UAE's complete cooperation in deterring the North Korean and Iranian threats as these countries' programs endangered not only the Middle East region but the world.
Although the United Arab Emirates ties with South Korea stretch back nearly 40 years, it’s only in the last decade or so that their relations got stronger. The UAE is Korea’s biggest export destination in the Middle East, and the second-largest supplier of crude oil to Korea. At a summit meeting with President Moon Jae-in and Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the two sides agreed 26 March 2018 to raise the status of bilateral relations to that of special strategic partnership. Aside from the UAE, India is the only other country with which Seoul has a special strategic partnership. , Moon and the crown prince agreed that defense cooperation was the core of their bilateral relationship.
The two countries are working together in defense, with a South Korean special forces unit called Akh, which means "brother" in Arabic, serving in Abu Dhabi to train the UAE's special forces. First dispatched in January 2011, the unit supports training of the UAE's special warfare unit and holds joint exercises with it. It is also tasked with protecting Korean people here in the case of an emergency. It is the first Korean unit dispatched for military cooperation in a non-troubled region, while Korea had participated in United Nations peace-keeping operations (PKO) aimed at resolving conflicts in troubled regions and doing recovery work.
At the request of the UAE, the Akh Unit is providing support in training the UAE special forces and conducting joint exercises with them. In particular, UAE presidential special guard command, the unit’s close training partner, is enhancing national prestige by not only deepening defense exchanges and cooperations with Korea, the United States, France and England, but also carrying out successful joint drills.
Akh Unit troops often come across the U.S. and French special forces in the UAE presidential gurad command. They have met some U.S. commandos under SEAL “Team Six” that involved in an operation killing Osama bin Laden. Those U.S. and French forces came to the UAE also at the request of the Gulf country to benchmark advanced military operation system.
The UAE has a climate of high temperature and humidity. At the highest, the temperature reaches up to 55 degrees Celsius (131 degrees Fahrenheit) in summer. Despite an unexpected and poor environmental circumstances the unit has never experienced before, members of the unit never get tired and kept on fulfilling their assigned duties. Such attitude has given good impression to forces of other countries.
President Moon Jae-in held a telephone conversation with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates, 07 June 2017. Noting that the Akh Unit dispatched to the UAE is one of the elite forces in the Republic of Korea, President Moon said the unit was a shining example of mutually beneficial cooperation in that it helped lift the standard of our military while supporting training of the UAE troops. The President continued to say that the Korean Government would make efforts to further enhance national defense cooperation centered around the Akh Unit. Speaking of his understanding that defense industry cooperation is taking place in various areas, the President said he hoped that it would develop into a mutually beneficial cooperative relationship conducive to the security of each nation. President Moon said he had been a member of the Special Forces when he was in the military, adding that he was proud of the Akh Unit’s mission.
President Moon expressed his high regard and gratitude to the UAE especially for its consistent support so far for South Korea’s position in relation to issues concerning the Korean Peninsula, including North Korea’s nuclear tests. The President continued to say that his Administration would seek decisive and fundamental denuclearization of the North through gradual and inclusive approaches, utilizing all methods available, including sanctions and dialogue. Then, he expressed the hope that Korea would be able to continue strategic communications and cooperation in the months to come with the UAE, Korea’s key friend in the Middle East, to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue, asking for the Crown Prince’s continued interest and support in the process.
Expressing appreciation to the President for his trust, the Crown Prince described the Akh Unit as a cornerstone to promote bilateral relations and mutual trust. He noted that the unit was of help in enhancing the capabilities of the UAE Special Forces and promoting stability in the Middle East. He went on to say that the unit would play a great role in promoting bilateral ties between the two nations. Commenting on the President`s remarks about the defense industry project, the Crown Prince said strong confidence has already been created and that it is ideal for two nations with an unwavering relationship to push ahead with a defense industry project. Roughly an hour's drive from the center of Abu Dhabi is a small town of Sweihan, where a South Korean special forces team operates under the name Akh. Sweihan, also spelled Swaihan or Suway'an, is a town in the region of Al Ain, 70 km northwest of the city of Al Ain. Construction of Abu Dhabi’s largest solar power plant, in Sweihan, began on 24 May 2017 after a financing package, totalling Dh3.2 billion, was secured. The 1.17 gigawatt plant, which will produce enough electricity to power about 200,000 homes, will be built by Japan’s Marubeni and JinkoSolar of China.
Held under the patronage of HH Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the President’s Representative and Chairman of the Emirates Heritage Club (EHC), HH Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed Al Nahyan Camel Festival 2018 hosted traditional camel races and beauty contests and a Saluki race. A fully-equipped media center was functional in Sweihan throughout the festival to enable media persons to cover the preparations and arrangements and to make the festival a national heritage and cultural occasion that sheds light on the importance of the time-honored camel sports and the role of the UAE in supporting its cultural heritage.
The Emergency Training School in Sweihan was the site of academic program of the basic preparation course were held in the Police Schools Department. In June 2016 Abu Dhabi Police Department of Purchasing and Warehousing Department announced the transfer of the Police Schools Department from the Suweihan area to its new building, which was built in the Al Foah area in Al Ain city.
The 140 special forces of the UAE Military Training Cooperation Group received a rare special guest 27 March 2018; their Commander-in-Chief, South Korean President Moon Jae-in. A former special forces soldier himself, Moon could not hide his sense of pride in his elite unit touting them as a key link in South Korea, UAE relations. Moon Jae-in called Korea's Akh Unit dispatched in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) a symbol of defense cooperation between the two countries and a model of reciprocal relations. He added Crown Prince Mohammed had spoken in high regard of the Akh Unit saying it has served as a cornerstone in raising their bilateral cooperation to a whole new level. South Korea's Commander-in-Chief said it was the presence of the Akh Unit that elevated the south Korea, UAE relations to be elevated to a special strategic partnership.
The conservative Lee Myung-bak government made secret defense deals to win a multi-billion-dollar deal to build nuclear reactors in the UAE. The deals were said to include Korea's automatic support of the UAE in the event of military conflict. That agreement required the National Assembly's ratification but the Lee government made the deal a secret to bypass due process.
In late 2017 the new liberal Moon government deactivated a task force team led by a colonel in the UAE to strengthen mutual military cooperation, leading the UAE to threaten to go back on the nuclear reactor deal. President Moon Jae-in said in his New Year news conference that the UAE deal could be left open to revisions.
Lim Jong-seok, chief presidential secretary of Korea visited the UAE 10 December 2017 in the name of encouraging the dispatched troops but actually to take care of the diplomatic problem with the UAE which occurred in connection with the construction of the Baraka Nuclear Power Plant due to the Moon Jae-in administration’s nuclear phase-out policy. Song Young-moo, minister of national defense, had already visited the Akh Unit in the UAE and Dongmyeong Unit in Lebanon about one month earlier.
Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, following his one-on-one 27 March 2018 with South Korean President Moon, ordered his aides to grant 25-billion U.S. dollars worth of projects to South Korean firms. These are contracts that had been put on hold by the UAE over its objection regarding a possible change to a secret defense cooperation deal made between Seoul and Abu Dhabi under the Lee administration in 2009. The 25 billion dollar greenlight from Crown Prince may be a signal that any kind of issues there may have had been - whether military or not - President Moon has managed to smooth out during his four-day trip to the Gulf nation.
In 2005 MFA U/S Abdullah Rashid Al Noaimi noted that transactions between North Korea and Iran cannot be fully understood without knowing the role China plays. "When we want to focus on North Korea, we need to focus on China as well," he said. The North Koreans and Iranians conduct "a lot of their meetings" in China, he added. The UAE intelligence services had "some information" about what the Iranians and North Koreans were doing through China. However, "China is a big dragon," he added, and the UAEG did not have enough manpower "to cover everything" the Chinese were doing.
Abu Dhabi's upcoming award of a $40+ billion nuclear power contract attracted the highest levels of diplomatic and commercial advocacy. The UAE will spend a lot of money and was well aware that a nuclear power plant is a 100 year commitment. and so wants a serious partner. US Secretaries Clinton and Napolitano both advocated for the GE/Hitachi bid with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed (MbZ), who said their bid is more than 50% more expensive than the Korean competition and GE/Hitachi negotiating teams have not been impressive. The French tied the nuclear bid to other bilateral issues, including military and security cooperation,
Sticking to its planned project timeline, on 06 May 2009 Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) invited three of six international consortia who submitted requests for qualification to bid on the nuclear tender: GE/Hitachi/Excelon (US/Japan/US), Areva/Bechtel/Gas de France (GDF) (France/US/France), and KEPCO (Korea).
The UAE and the Republic of Korea signed a nuclear cooperation agreement on 22 June 2009. According to the agreement, the Korean government will help UAE to develop its nuclear programme by transferring nuclear technology, equipment and expertise for a period of 20 years. The agreement, which outlines cooperation in nuclear power development for peaceful purposes, was signed by Dr. Anwar Mohammed Gargash, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kwon Jong-rak.
December 27, 2009 was a historic day for both countries, which announced the four reactors to be built jointly in Abu Dhabi in a construction contract worth US$18.6 billion. It was also significant in that it laid the foundations for bilateral cooperation through "a friendship that will last for centuries" according to Yoon Sang-jick is the Republic of Korea's minister of trade, industry and energy. Since that day, the nuclear power project has been carried out smoothly based on strong trust and mutually beneficial practices. A case in point is the groundbreaking ceremony for Barakah Unit 1, which was held in November 2012 with the leaders of both nations present. “Barakah” means “blessings from God” in Arabic.
On 28 May 2013 the Republic of Korea and the United Arab Emirates broke ground on another nuclear reactor in Abu Dhabi - the Barakah Nuclear Power Plant Unit 2. President Park Geun-hye attended the ceremony to celebrate construction of the Barakah nuclear power plant in the United Arab Emirates with Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs Sheik Mansour on 20 May 2014.
President Moon Jae-in on 26 March 2018 attended a ceremony marking the completion of the United Arab Emirates’ first nuclear reactor, as he continued efforts to improve ties with the Middle Eastern state.
Cooperation in nuclear energy does not stop at simply building nuclear power plants – comprehensive and diverse cooperation is going on in such areas as nuclear safety regulation program, cultivation of nuclear specialists and establishment of a nuclear power plant operator. Building on this experience of close cooperation, the two countries may even pursue, in the future, joint projects in third countries’ nuclear power programs.
Republic of Korea and United Arab Emirates the operation contract for Barakah Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) on October 20th, 2016 in Four seasons Hotel, Abu Dhabi. Mr. Joo Hyunghwan, Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy of Republic of Korea said " The joint venture agreement will bring a true-partnership to ENEC and KEPCO, which is much more advanced than the previous vendor-supplier relationship. KEPCO’s expertise in nuclear power plant operation, combined with ENEC’s world-class management skills, will definitely help BNPP’s successful and safe operation, which is crucial to the two countries’ future cooperation."
On January 31, 2017, H.E. Choi Yanghee, Minister of Future, Science and Technology and H.E. Khalifa Al-Romaithi, Chairman of UAE Space Agency signed MOU to enhance the bilateral cooperation in space between the Republic of Korea and the United Arab Emirates.
With Korea’s winning the UAE’s nuclear power plant program in December 2009 and subsequent entry by Korean companies into Abu Dhabi to support the program, the UAE has become a household country name to Koreans. Most Korean firms are operating their regional headquarters either in Abu Dhabi or in Dubai in order to cover all of the Middle East and Africa, as well as Central Asia and Southwest Asia. Not a day goes by without hearing the name “UAE” in Korean news, and the Korean people now automatically connect the Middle East with Abu Dhabi and Dubai before anything else.
After reaching the record high figure of 25 billion USD in 2008, the bilateral trade volume between Korea and the UAE decreased drastically to 14.3 billion USD in 2009 due to the global economic crisis. It has been gradually growing again, posting 17.7 billion USD and 22 billion USD in 2010 and 2011, respectively. Korea and the UAE has formed mutually complementary trade relations in which Korea imports crude oil, naphtha and LPG from the UAE, whereas the UAE imports manufactured goods including automobiles, mobile phones, high-end electronic appliances and steel structures.
UAE has contributed to South Korea's economic development through its stable supply of oil. South Korea is also participating in the development of oilfields in the UAE that will produce the Emirati oil so widely known for its high quality. The two governments agreed on a joint oil reserve project to store six million barrels of UAE oil in South Korea. This agreement provides the UAE with a strategic base for marketing its oil in north-east Asia and boosts South Korea's emergency supplies.
The UAE holds a very important position in the Korean economy as it supplies 10% of the entire crude oil demand to Korea. It is the second largest market for construction and plant projects for Korean companies. In particular from this year, Korea will participate in Abu Dhabi’s oil field development in earnest, which will enable mutual cooperation at the stages of development and production, going much beyond simple import of crude oil. The joint oil storage project that is being implemented by the two countries for the purpose of enhancing mutual interest will contribute greatly to securing stable resources for Korea.
Since the establishment of diplomatic ties between the Republic of Korea and the United Arab Emirates in 1980, bilateral relations have witnessed steady growth. In particular, after concluding the nuclear energy contract in 2009, the two countries forged a ‘strategic partnership’, which marked the first time for the ROK to do so with a Middle East country, and enjoyed the ever-close relationship. In the recent years, the bilateral cooperative ties have expanded in all fields such as security cooperation, health and medical treatment, sports, education, and culture, intensifying existing cooperation in the areas of political affairs, economy and energy.
There are growing interests in Korea and Korean culture mainly among younger generations of the UAE. Also, the number of Emirati citizens visiting Korea for tour and medical treatments are increasing. In addition, the number of Korean companies operating in the UAE has reached 200, and the number of the Korean citizens in the UAE have grown dramatically over the past few years, it reached over 12,000 at the end of 2015. In March 2016, Korean Cultural Center was opened in Abu Dhabi which is the first in the Middle East.
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