The Korea Herald


Saudi crown prince to meet with biz moguls in Seoul

Business leaders seek cooperation, partnership opportunities for $500b Neom project

By Kan Hyeong-woo

Published : Nov. 14, 2022 - 15:49

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Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman (AFP-Yonhap) Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman (AFP-Yonhap)

Saudi Arabia Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman expected to visit South Korea later this week, with potential to meet again Korea’s top business leaders as well as sit down with President Yoon Suk-yeol.

The crown prince, also referred to as MBS, is scheduled to arrive this Thursday for a two-day stay after he attends the G-20 Heads of State and Government Summit in Bali, Indonesia, according to Korean diplomatic sources Monday. The visit will mark the crown prince’s first trip to Korea since 2019.

MBS, the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia, is leading the country’s Neom project -- a $500 billion (659 trillion won) megacity-building plan to set up an eco-friendly and smart city that covers a total of 26,500 square kilometers in northwestern Tabuk Province.

With the megaproject on deck, the crown prince’s visit has been much anticipated since MBS is expected to look for potential business partners with Korean companies while local businesses will seek chances to secure contracts and explore partnership opportunities.

MBS previously met with Samsung Electronics Chairman Lee Jae-yong during his state visit to Korea in June 2019. Lee, then vice chairman of Samsung Electronics, invited the crown prince to Seungjiwon, Samsung Group’s reception hall in central Seoul, for closed-door talks.

Other business tycoons -- Chung Eui-sun, then senior vice chairman of Hyundai Motor Group, Chey Tae-won, chairman of SK Group, Koo Kwang-mo, chairman of LG Group and Shin Dong-bin, chairman of Lotte Group -- also gathered at Samsung’s private space and had tea with MBS. They reportedly discussed cooperation and investment in Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, a state-level project intended to revolutionize the Middle Eastern country’s economy and industry.

About two months after their Seoul gathering, Lee visited MBS in Saudi Arabia to discuss cooperation over a wide range of areas including construction, energy, smart city and technology. Based on their previous meetings, industry watchers believe they will meet again in Seoul this week.

The crown prince also has legitimate reasons to meet with Chung and Chey -- the leaders of Hyundai Motor Group and SK Group. Hyundai’s push for urban air mobility aligns with the Neom project’s target to develop a futuristic city. SK’s eco-friendly energy expansion appears to be on the same page as Saudi Arabia’s investments in pro-environment energy. Lotte Chemical and Lotte Fine Chemical have recently signed blue hydrogen partnerships with Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s state oil company.

“If you recall the unplanned meeting (between MBS and the five business tycoons) three years ago, a similar get-together could take place again this time,” said an official at one of the five aforementioned groups.

“But whether (MBS) will meet with President Yoon Suk-yeol remains up in the air,” the official added.

Regarding the speculation over the crown prince’s visit to Korea and a possible meeting with President Yoon, an official at the presidential office said there was nothing to be confirmed at this point.

After participating in the first day of the G20 summit, Yoon is scheduled to come back to Korea on Wednesday and hold meetings with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez in Seoul on Thursday and Friday, respectively.

Last week, South Korean Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy Lee Chang-yang and Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Investment Khalid Al-Falih agreed to strengthen economic ties and expand business cooperation in many areas such as hydrogen technology and smart city. Saudi Arabia’s minister visited Seoul for a Saudi-Korea business workshop.