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Korea, Uzbekistan to expand investment

Leaders of South Korea and Uzbekistan on Tuesday agreed to expand economic cooperation and work closely for new joint ventures on energy development.

During a summit held in the Uzbek capital Tashkent, South Korean President Park Geun-hye and her counterpart Islam Karimov agreed to strengthen bilateral ties and push for multi-billion-dollar projects to develop a gas field and a solar power plant.

The Central Asian country has been developing the Kandym gas field in the Bukhara region through a consortium of Russian and Uzbek firms. The field holds an estimated 150-180 billion cubic meters of gas and is expected to process 8 billion cubic meters of gas annually.

Uzbekistan also plans to build a 100-megawatt solar power plant in the country’s second-largest city of Samarkand. The solar power project, worth $300 million, will be put up for a bid later this year. If Korea wins the project, it will offer opportunities for the country to participate in other solar energy developments in Uzbekistan in the future. The Central Asian country plans to build a 4 gigawatt solar plant by 2030. 
Presidents Park Geun-hye and Islam Karimov inspect the honor guard at the presidential palace in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, Tuesday. (Yonhap)
Presidents Park Geun-hye and Islam Karimov inspect the honor guard at the presidential palace in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, Tuesday. (Yonhap)

After the summit, the two leaders signed a set of agreements to provide grants, expand investment and promote information exchange to support the Central Asian nation’s social and economic development.

Under the agreement, the South Korean government will also provide the Uzbek administration an economic development cooperation fund loan to support the development and launch of an e-library system.

Park is currently on a six-day trip to three Central Asian nations. Uzbekistan is the first leg of her trip.

The two leaders also discussed ways to strengthen their “strategic partnership” on a wide range of issues including politics, business, energy and technology.

They reviewed the progress of the joint ventures currently underway such as a gas and pipeline project at the Surgil gas field near the Aral Sea and a thermal plant expansion project in Talimarjan, 440 kilometers southwest of Tashkent. The two projects are worth $8 billion, according to officials.

Park and Karimov also agreed to work closely on new projects to develop the information and communications technology, textile and defense industries. During an hour-long summit, the Uzbek leader expressed his support for Park’s foreign policy agendas such as her “Eurasia Initiative,” “Korean Peninsula trust process,” and “Northeast Asia peace and cooperation vision.”

Park proposed her “Eurasia Initiative” in October, urging Eurasian nations to join forces to build energy and logistics infrastructure across the continent. The initiative calls for linking roads and railways across the continent to connect South Korea directly to Europe through North Korea, Russia and China.

At a meeting with South Korean residents and ethnic Koreans in Uzbekistan on Monday, Park said that she plans to “further expand ties of coexistence and cooperation with Central Asian nations.” The South Korean leader also praised Uzbekistan as a “valuable cooperation partner” with great market potential. Park visited the Central Asian country with a group of 81 Korean business leaders.

“Through this visit, I plan to give shape to practical cooperation projects so as to expand the foundation for a win-win relationship and establish an engine for job creation and economic development in the two countries,” Park said.

On Wednesday, Park will visit Uzbekistan’s second-largest city of Samarkand, which prospered from its location on the trade route between China and the Mediterranean.

On the second leg of her trip, Park is set to visit Kazakhstan and hold talks with her counterpart Nursultan Nazarbayev on Thursday. She will discuss with the Kazakh president ways to bolster ties in the fields of energy, the environment, and science and technology, officials said.

Park will then fly to Turkmenistan and hold a summit with her counterpart Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov to seek support measures for Korean companies making inroads into the Central Asian country. She will be the first South Korean leader to visit Turkmenistan, the presidential office said. She returns on Saturday.

By Cho Chung-un and news reports