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Korea boosts Central Asia ties

Korea is seeking to scale up its partnership with Central Asia in efforts to shore up its charge into the region’s vast resources reserves and growing energy and infrastructure industries.

The Foreign Ministry hosted a cooperation forum in Seoul on Wednesday with more than 100 policymakers, businesspeople and scholars from five Central Asian countries ― Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan.

They took part in sessions on issues such as renewable energy, medical care and finance.

The sixth annual event coincides with the 20th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the Seoul and Central Asia.

Later in the day, Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan signed a memorandum of understanding with his Kyrgyz counterpart Ruslan Kazakbayev for collaboration between their agencies.

Kim also held talks with Uzbekistan Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov to discuss cooperation in industry, trade and other issues.

Seoul has been stepping up diplomacy with the countries since the forum’s 2007 inception as it eyes a bigger stake in energy and infrastructure development projects.

The region is estimated to account for about 6 percent and 3 percent of the world’s gas and crude reserves, respectively. Kazakhstan in particular is believed to hold nearly 40 billion barrels of oil and 33.6 billion tons of coal.

Competition is heating up among countries to expand their forays there. China, for instance, is planning a $7.3 billion project to build a gas pipeline that stretches to Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan. The first section opened in December 2009.

A multitude of state-run and private Korean businesses including Samsung, LG and Hyundai Engineering are building power and chemical plants, renovating refining facilities or drilling gas in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

The ministry said it also wants to boost cooperation in tourism and health care, harnessing a recent Korean pop culture boom in countries like Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

Some 500,000 ethnic Koreans live across Central Asia, about 200,000 of which are Uzbekistani nationals.

By Shin Hyon-hee (