NATIONAL

President Park begins trip to Middle East

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Mar 1, 2015 - 18:47
  • Updated : Mar 1, 2015 - 18:47

KUWAIT CITY ― President Park Geun-hye arrived in Kuwait early Monday (Korean time), the first leg of her four-nation trip to the Middle East to forge fresh strategic ties with the region amid low oil prices and South Korea’s slowing economy.

Park is set to hold summits with leaders of four nations ― Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar ― to expand cooperation in a wide range of fields including business, security and culture.

The largest-ever business delegation, comprising 116 representatives of public and private firms, has joined the presidential trip, Park’s senior secretary for economy said Sunday.

The massive participation of Korean companies reflects the significance of her trip, which comes at a critical time when the Gulf nations are attempting to diversify their business portfolio to prepare for the post-oil era, he said. In the past, the Middle East was a business destination for energy and construction companies, but the region is increasingly opening new markets for a wide range of soft industries including information technology, medical services and renewable energy.

“The presidential trip to the Middle East is expected to bring significant economic achievements as we expect to sign a number of MOUs with our counterparts,” An Chong-bum, senior presidential secretary for economy, said. Business forums will be held in all the four Gulf nations to help South Korean firms to win new orders, he added.

In Kuwait, Park will hold a summit with the emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah to discuss ways to increase bilateral cooperation in energy, construction, railroads, health care and IT.

Park is the first South Korean president to visit Kuwait in eight years. She will then fly to Saudi Arabia on March 4 for a two-day visit to meet newly crowned King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to seek expansion of bilateral cooperation in energy, construction, health and communications technology as well as security issues.

At her third destination, the UAE, Park plans to meet with Mohammed bin Zayed bin Al Nahyan, crown prince of Abu Dhabi, before heading to Qatar on March 6. Park also plans to meet Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani in return for the Qatari leader’s visit to South Korea in November. Her visit is expected to secure more business opportunities for Korean firms in Qatar, the host of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

As a mark of respect for Middle Eastern culture, all of Park’s female staff will wear abaya during her trip, officials said.

The Korean president returns on Mar. 9.

By Cho Chung-un (christory@heraldcorp.com)