Miracle memories in Saudi Arabia

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Miracle memories in Saudi Arabia

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From left: Tawfiq bin Fawzan Al Rabiah, Saudi minister of commerce and industry; Abdulrahman Bin Abdullah Al-Zamil, president of the Council of Saudi Chambers; Korean President Park Geun-hye; and Park Yong-maan, chairman of the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry, attend a Korea-Saudi Arabia business forum Wednesday in Riyadh. [Joint Press Corp.]

The so-called Miracle on the Han River from the 1960s through 1980s that helped Korea out of poverty in the post-war era to become one of Asia’s leading economies was largely the result of civil engineering and construction business in the Middle East.

More than four decades after the first Korean construction crew set foot in Saudi Arabia in 1973, Korea is reaching out to the Middle East with new business opportunities that are much more than simple bricks and steel.

The country is hoping to revive its past glory equipped with its newest artillery: medical services, energy and many of the information and telecommunication technologies (ICT) that have become a commanding presence in the global market today.

Such ambition was evident during a forum Wednesday hosted by the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry at the Four Seasons Hotel in the Saudi capital of Riyadh.

“The sweat that Korean workers spilled on construction projects in Saudi Arabia was the driving force behind the Miracle on the Han River,” said Park Yong-maan, chairman of the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry, during a speech at the business forum. “Korea is Saudi Arabia’s best economic partner.”

Park, who lived in Saudi Arabia for a year in 1982 while working on several construction projects, including the cargo terminal of Riyadh King Khalid International Airport, stressed the benefits both countries could enjoy from strengthening their business cooperation.

“Korea’s experience and technology will play a huge role in diversifying Saudi Arabia’s industrial structure and molding policies that will help boost the manufacturing industry,” Park added.

Abdulrahman Bin Abdullah Al-Zamil, president of the Council of Saudi Chambers, said in the opening speech he hopes that economic cooperation will expand from traditional areas of energy, construction and plants to new fields such as ICT and medical services.

Tawfiq bin Fawzan Al Rabiah, Saudi minister of commerce and industry, noted that the Saudi government has recently been diversifying its economy by creating manufacturing clusters for automobiles, steel and electronic goods, while stepping up investment in ICT and medical industries as well as several engineering fields. It is part of the Saudi government’s agenda aimed at lowering its dependence on oil while enhancing knowledge-based businesses.

Mohammed bin Ahmed Garwan, an atomic energy team leader at the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy, told forum participants the Kingdom relies on thermal plants for power generation, but plans to concentrate its investments on nuclear and renewable energy by 2032 to secure a steady power supply.

He said Saudi Arabia hopes that Korea, whose nuclear power plant construction technology has been globally recognized, as seen by successful orders from the United Arab Emirates in 2009, will contribute to the construction of nuclear power plants.

The meeting took place as President Park Geun-hye and Saudi King Salman signed a $2 billion deal for two Korean companies to build two System-integrated Modular Advanced Reactors.

“Each Middle Eastern country is trying to diversify its economy in preparation of the post-oil era,” said Lee Dong-geun, vice chairman of the Korean Chamber. “We expect huge opportunities for Korean businesses.”

The forum, according to the Korean business advocate, was attended by roughly 400 people, including Korean and Saudi Arabian businessmen and government officials. Also participating were President Park Geun-hye; Yoon Sang-jick, minister of trade, industry and energy; Choi Yang-hee, minister of science, ICT and future planning; and Yun Byung-se, minister of foreign affairs. Members of the Korean business community in attendance included Kwon Oh-joon, chairman of No.1 steelmaker Posco; Hyundai Group Chairwoman Hyun Jung-eun; and GS Group Chairman Huh Chang-soo, also chairman of the Federation of Korean Industries.

BY LEE HO-JEONG [lee.hojeong@joongang.co.kr]

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