South Korean officials have established an agency to deepen the country’s trade ties with Central Asian states. The initiative signals South Korea’s intent on raising its economic profile in Central Asia.
Officially named the Korea-Central Asia Cooperation Forum Secretariat, the agency is an outgrowth of South Korea’s 2013 “Eurasia Initiative,” launched under former president Park Geun-hye. The secretariat is functioning under the auspices of the Korea Foundation, a state-controlled public diplomacy entity, and is headed by Kim Gwang-keun, who has served as the foundation’s executive vice president.
Representatives of the five Central Asian states – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – are also attached to the secretariat, which was formally minted in July. They function as goodwill ambassadors, striving to raise awareness in the Korean business community about the investment potential of their respective countries.
The initiative seeks to capitalize on a strong cultural connection between South Korea and Central Asia. Roughly 100,000 ethnic Koreans living in the Soviet Union were forcibly relocated from Far Eastern border regions to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan in the late 1930s. Today, upwards of 500,000 ethnic Koreans live in Central Asia.
Geography remains a major obstacle for South Korea’s economic ambitions in the region. There is no shared border, and Central Asia’s landlocked position precludes maritime trade. Indeed, Kazakhstan’s capital Astana sits 3,000 miles to the west of Seoul, with China sitting in between.
In 2016, Korean-Central Asian trade accounted for a mere 0.33 percent of Korea’s global exports, and just 0.06 percent of Korea’s total imports, according to International Monetary Fund data. Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan accounted for virtually all of Central Asian exports to South Korea, mostly in the form of raw materials.
With the largest population of ethnic Koreans (upwards of 200,000), Uzbekistan claims the top spot among importers of Korean goods among the five Central Asian nations, with imports totaling $1.28 billion in 2015. An estimated 408 Korean businesses are active in import-export or other services.
Korea’s “Eurasia Initiative” has led to warming trade relations with Tashkent in recent years. The Uzbek Foreign Ministry reported that by 2016, trade turnover totaled $1.7 billion.
Kazakhstan, with its sizeable ethnic Korean population (about 107,000), has approximately 200 Korean companies operating in the country.
Uzbekistan has been the biggest beneficiary of South Korean investment. In December 2013, South Korea agreed to invest in Uzbekistan’s first solar energy project, a $300-million joint venture based in Samarkand. The following year, Korean officials announced a $5 billion investment in the natural gas and chemicals sectors.
In February 2015, Hyundai Engineering won a $2 billion contract for the construction of the Kandym gas processing plant in Uzbekistan’s Bukhara region, and a year later Korean companies completed construction on the $4 billion Ustyurt gas chemical complex.
Korean investors are expected to benefit from Tashkent’s May 2016 decision to allow their participation in Uzbekistan’s multi-step privatization program. Korean companies reportedly are seeking to obtain shares of oil and gas company Sarbon-Neftegaz, Samarkand Winery, and several banks. While exact figures are hard to come by, South Korean companies have so far invested upwards of $12 billion in Uzbekistan.
Elsewhere in Central Asia, perhaps the most notable deal involving a South Korean entity was Pohang Iron & Steel’s reported $1 billion investment in Turkmenistan in 2015.
Editor’s note: Gary Sands is a Senior Analyst at Wikistrat, a crowdsourced consultancy, and a Director at Highway West Capital Advisors, a venture capital, project finance and political risk advisory. He has contributed commentaries to US News and World Report, Newsweek, Washington Times, The Diplomat, The National Interest, International Policy Digest, Asia Times, Eurasia Review, Indo-Pacific Review, the South China Morning Post, Global Times and China Digital Times.
Afghanistan to build first Women’s Police Town
KABUL: To encourage more women to join the police force in this deeply conservative and male-dominated society, Afghanistan has launched a housing project for female officers.
Women’s Police Town was inaugurated on Monday in Kabul and is funded by international donors, with Canada providing $26 million for its first phase.
It includes construction of 10 apartment buildings, each with 30 units and able to house 300 policewomen and their families in Kabul, the US-led coalition and Afghan officials said.
“This is the first such project for female police in the history of Afghanistan,” Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danesh told Arab News on Tuesday.
“It will be expanded to other parts of the country in later stages. The purpose is to encourage women to join the police ranks.” The project is due to be completed by 2020.
The proposed complex will be constructed in four phases, and will include an elementary school, child day-care facility, medical clinic, fitness center and community center, officials said. The government will manage and operate the school and day-care facility, they added.
Wounded Taliban undergo for treatment inTajikistan,claims Afghan MP
KABUL:Afghan MP claims that wounded Taliban militants are undergoing medical treatment in hospitals in Tajikistan.
According to VOA, member of Loya Jirga from Kunduz province, Eng. Kamal Sapai, said on Wednesday that Taliban militants who have been wounded in clashes with government forces in Kunduz province are undergoing medical treatment in hospitals in Tajikistan.
Meanwhile, the Tajik authorities deny this statement as absolutely ‘unfounded’.
“Information spread by Afghan parliamentarian through the Ashna TV is an egregious lie,” Muhammad Ulughkhojayev, a spokesman for the main Border Guard Directorate at the State Committee for National Security (SCNS) of Tajikistan, told media in an interview .
“The Taliban Movement is designated as a terrorist organization and any contacts with it are banned by Tajikistan’s legislation,” said Ulughkhojayev. “Official Dushanbe has never had any contacts with Taliban and that’s the end of it.”
Senior Cleric Says Iran ‘Fully Determined’ To Boost Missile Power
Tehran interim Friday Prayer Leader Ayatolllah Seyyed Ahmad Khatami said the Islamic Republic of Iran is fully determined to upgrade its missile power aimed at “confronting whatever threat posed by Israel”, IRNA reports.
Addressing the worshipers at Tehran University, Ayatollah Khatami said “in a world where wolves rule and there is no logic in their behavior, the Islamic Republic should be armed and powerful”.
The senior cleric said Iran’s military missile might is one of the main components of the country’s policy of deterrence.
“We have missiles, we would continue building more missiles and increase their ranges”, he added.
The senior cleric further said that the most important principle of Iran’s military power is defense through deterrence.
Ayatollah Khatami said Iran would never make atomic bombs, adding that based on a Fatwa issued by Supreme Leader of Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, Iran remains to believe that it should not develop and possess nuclear weapons.
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