President Yoon Suk Yeol departed for the United Arab Emirates on Saturday as part of a two-nation swing focused on promoting South Korean exports especially in energy and arms.
Yoon is set to arrive in Abu Dhabi on a state visit, the first by a South Korean leader since the two countries established diplomatic ties in 1980, and meet with UAE President Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
During his four-day stay, he will also visit the Akh unit, a South Korean military contingent, and the Barakah nuclear power plant built by South Korea, a symbolic measure reaffirming his commitment to scrapping the nuclear phaseout policy of his predecessor Moon Jae-in.
"Choosing the UAE for the first foreign trip of the year and the first visit to a country in the Middle East reflects President Yoon's firm commitment to focusing our diplomacy on vitalizing the economy and increasing exports," national security adviser Kim Sung-han told reporters earlier.
"Through this visit, we will drastically strengthen our strategic cooperation with the UAE, which is our brother nation, in the four core areas of nuclear power, energy, investment and the defense industry," he said, adding the first state visit to the UAE demonstrates the two countries' desire to upgrade their special strategic partnership to a higher level.
The two sides are reportedly in the final stages of concluding around 30 memorandums of understanding involving the governments and the private sector, with energy, arms and investment among the key areas of cooperation.
A senior presidential official said an announcement is planned for a deal to export South Korean arms to the UAE.
"The atmosphere is extremely ripe for security or military cooperation between South Korea and the UAE involving the arms industry," the official said.
Yoon will also be accompanied by a business delegation made up of officials from some 100 South Korean companies, supporting their expansion into the UAE and discussing possibilities for cooperation with UAE sovereign wealth funds.
From the UAE, Yoon will travel to Zurich, Switzerland, on Tuesday and meet with South Korean residents in the city before traveling to Davos to attend the World Economic Forum from Wednesday to Thursday.
At Davos, the president will meet with CEOs of major global companies and discuss ways the government and the private sector can work together to overcome the complex global crisis and ensure sustainable growth.
The CEOs will include Samsung Electronics Executive Chairman Lee Jae-yong, SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won and Hyundai Motor Group Chairman Euisun Chung from among chiefs of South Korean conglomerates, as well as the CEOs of Intel, IBM, Qualcomm, JP Morgan and Sony.
On Thursday, the president will give a special address to the forum on ways the international community can work together to overcome the global economic crisis.
He will present ideas for international cooperation and solidarity for the strengthening of supply chains, the transition to clean energy and the construction of a digital order, while also stating South Korea's role and commitment to achieving those goals.
Yoon will visit the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich the same day to meet with scholars and discuss cooperation in science and technology.
He will return home next Saturday. (Yonhap)