Korea Envisions Expo 2030 as Platform for Global Solutions, Enhanced Central Asia Ties

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Amid the final push in the campaign to host World Expo 2030 in the southeastern city of Busan, Korea seeks to leverage this opportunity to channel efforts to address global challenges and boost global relations, with a particular focus on Central Asia.

Central Asia is a region deemed crucial for Korea’s future, given its abundant resources and potential for mutual growth. Encompassing five countries ― Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan ― the region is renowned for its vast natural resources and young, skilled labor force.

The Korea Times hosted a roundtable titled “Future of Korea-Central Asia Economic Cooperation” at the Korean Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) headquarters in central Seoul, Friday, to discuss the potential synergy between Korea’s technological prowess and Central Asia’s resource wealth, which can open avenues for fruitful partnerships that can bolster economic progress, sustainability and diplomatic relations.

At the roundtable, Ambassador of Uzbekistan to Korea Vitaliy Fen, Counselor at the Embassy of Kazakhstan Timur Jaikov and Attache at the Embassy of Kyrgyz Republic Sanzhar Valibekov discussed bilateral issues with SK Supex Council Vice President Park Hoon and KCCI Research Division Executive Director Kang Seog-gu, moderated by The Korea Times President-Publisher Oh Young-jin.

Representatives from the Embassy of Tajikistan and Turkmenistan were not able to attend the roundtable due to unavoidable circumstances.

Park from SK Supex Council emphasized the significance of Central Asia as a key partner for South Korea, stating that Central Asia’s mix of abundant resources and Korea’s technology and capital can create substantial synergy.

Park highlighted the various projects SK has been involved with in Central Asia, including copper production and expressway construction, but noted these initiatives were mostly one-off projects.

“Recently, as we have been participating in the World Expo 2030 bid activities, we have had opportunities to meet with foreign missions in Korea and visit various countries, including Central Asia, to promote Busan’s World Expo 2030 candidacy,” Park said. “What we realized during this process was that there were more diverse areas for investment in Central Asia.”

SK Supex Council is the decision-making body for the Korean conglomerate SK Group, which plays a notable role in Korea’s Expo bid. This involvement is spearheaded by the group’s Chairman Chey Tae-won, who is also co-chairing the committee bidding for Busan to host the World Expo 2030.

“In my opinion, the World Expo is more than a venue to showcase technology; it’s a platform for jointly addressing global concerns, such as climate change and food shortages. I believe this provides an excellent opportunity to cultivate stronger ties between Korea and Central Asian countries,” Park said.

While their focus has primarily been on Central Asia’s resources, the SK executive noted that there are other sectors ripe for collaboration as well.

“For example, Central Asia is currently grappling with desertification, opening up avenues for partnership in reforestation projects. The ongoing development of new cities offers further potential for cooperation, especially in infrastructure and smart city initiatives,” he said.

“If a car factory is established, we could contribute by supplying batteries and there have been discussions around materials for batteries too. These represent just a few of the potential areas for cooperation.”

Kang of the KCCI agreed that Central Asia holds significant importance for South Korea’s future in terms of resources, trade and mutual growth.

“In preparation of this meeting, I contemplated the importance of these five countries to Korea. To better illustrate this significance, I even hand-drew a map to visually highlight the importance of Central Asian countries to Korea,” Kang said.

“Korea’s economy relies heavily on trade, but the dynamics surrounding trade are changing rapidly and we are also confronting issues such as climate change. Given these circumstances, Central Asia is becoming increasingly more important to Korea.”

Kang said Korea perceives Central Asia as a promising new trade partner in light of the changing structure of trade.

“In the process of transformation to a net-zero economy, Central Asia can supplement Korea’s resource limitations and help navigate through the ever-changing trade environment. Recognizing Korea’s technological and manufacturing expertise, I see an opportunity for mutual growth if Korea’s advanced technology and manufacturing skills are combined with Central Asia’s resources,” Kang said.

Kang reflected on his life’s journey, growing up in a period of rapid economic development in Korea, a trajectory that mirrored his personal growth.

“Growing up in a rural area, I wore rubber shoes and our house didn’t have electricity until I was 7. Despite these humble beginnings in the countryside, I pursued my education and my personal growth coincided with Korea’s economic development,” he said.

“Through my life journey, I realized how a country’s economic growth can elevate an individual’s happiness and quality of life. I believe this principle applies to Central Asia as well. If Central Asia’s economy continues to expand, I am confident that it will foster happiness and fulfill the dreams of its people.”

Kang encouraged Central Asia to seize opportunities in new fields such as climate change and digital transformation.

“Reflecting on Korea’s experience, I see significant opportunities for Central Asia, particularly in the context of climate change… In today’s world, we’re moving towards digital transformation and Central Asia should embrace this shift actively as digitalization is an irreversible trend,” he said.

“As societies become more prosperous and develop, the quality of life becomes a crucial aspect. Medical and health care services are necessary to any prospering society. Korea is quite advanced in these areas and we could offer more support and collaboration in these sectors to Central Asia.”

Diplomats from Central Asia highlighted the need for consistent investment from Korea in diverse fields, capitalizing on their abundant resources.

Uzbekistan Ambassador Fen, a seasoned diplomat who has spent over 20 years in Korea, spoke in Korean, highlighting how his country values its strategic partnership with Korea and seeks to continue enhancing relations across various sectors such as green development and digitalization.

Jaikov from Kazakhstan noted that with a significant increase in trade and mutual investment, Kazakhstan seeks to explore further collaborative opportunities while encouraging more active Korean investment in the country.

Kyrgyzstan’s Valibekov introduced the embassy’s efforts to facilitate more high-level visits and boost trade, economic and cultural exchanges, with Korean companies making their way into the Kyrgyzstan market.

Source: Korea Times