President Park Geun Hye Concludes Middle East Trip

D-Bo , March 9, 2015, 10:53 a.m.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye left for Seoul on Sunday after a four-nation Middle East swing meant to further expand economic ties beyond oil and construction.  The trip to four Gulf States -- Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar -- came as oil-rich Mideast countries are pushing to diversify their economic portfolios ahead of the inevitable advent of a post-oil era.

South Korea believes that such attempts could present new business opportunities for its companies, especially in such fields as health care and information and communication technology.  South Korea views the potential business opportunities as the "second Middle East boom" following the first one in 1970s when many Korean workers sent home their hard-earned cash from sweating at construction sites in the region.

The Middle Eastern countries "are offering us another chance with the second Middle East boom," Park said in a meeting with more than 100 South Korean businessmen who accompanied Park on her trip.  Ju Chul-ki, senior presidential secretary for foreign affairs, said Park's rapport with the leaders of the four Gulf States can be a "valuable asset" to South Korea.

He also described confidence forged among the leaders as sowing the seed for the development of South Korea's relations with the oil-rich countries in the future.  On Sunday, Park and Qatar's emir agreed to further cooperate in nuclear reactor and health care while cementing ties in such traditional sectors as construction, Park's office said.

Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani told Park that he is ready to further develop cooperative relations with South Korea in a wide-range of issues, noting South Korea is a model of Qatar's economic growth.  Park also sought Al Thani's interest to ensure that South Korean companies can participate in industrial and infrastructure projects in the oil-rich Gulf state, saying that South Korea -- which co-hosted the 2002 World Cup with Japan -- can be a good partner for Qatar in building infrastructure.

Qatar plans to spend about US$100 billion to expand its infrastructure such as roads and stadiums to prepare for the 2022 World Cup. South Korea hopes that its companies can secure some of the projects.  Park's second summit with Al Thani in four months underscored strengthening relations between South Korea and Qatar.

The two leaders also observed the signing of a memorandum of understanding calling for cooperation on training nuclear experts and on building a nuclear reactor for medical and other research purposes.

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