Korea upgrades Uzbekistan partnership

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Korea upgrades Uzbekistan partnership

After Korean President Moon Jae-in signed a special strategic partnership with Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev on Friday, he arrived in Kazakhstan, the last leg of his weeklong state visit to Central Asia, on Sunday.

Moon was in Uzbekistan from Thursday to Sunday after a two-day visit to Turkmenistan in his first trip to Central Asia since he took office.

Mirziyoyev called Moon his “brother” and touted their friendship, which was first established when Mirziyoyev visited Korea in November 2017.

The two leaders’ agreement to upgrade their countries’ ties to a “special strategic partnership” makes Uzbekistan the fourth country Korea has built such a relationship with after India, Indonesia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

While strategic partnerships are non-binding, they underscore a commitment to building a long-term relationship based on mutual interests.

In a social media post on Sunday, Moon said a variety of cooperative projects in the fields of culture, energy, construction technology, defense and business worth roughly $12 billion were signed.

Calling Uzbekistan a “brother country comparable to an ally,” Moon said the country’s close ties to Korea were well represented by the experiences of the Koryo-saram, the ethnic Koreans who migrated to the Russian Far East in the early 19th century and were forcibly transferred to Central Asia by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in the ’30s.

“The history of our Koryo-saram compatriots are also our history,” Moon wrote. “Uzbekistan received them warmly when they were forcibly deported in hard times.”

Moon also visited a historic site in the city of Samarkand, well known as the heart of the Silk Road, where he and Mirziyoyev viewed a mural from the seventh century on which envoys from Goguryeo - an ancient Korean kingdom that lasted from 37 B.C. to A.D. 668 - were depicted attending the coronation of an ancient Uzbek king.

Interpreting the mural as evidence of historic ties between the two countries, the leaders then signed a memorandum of agreement that pledged Korean technical support for the preservation of historic sites in Uzbekistan.

The Central Asian trip was undertaken as part of one of the Moon administration’s signature foreign policy ventures, the New Northern Policy. By deepening ties with Russia, Mongolia and Central Asian countries, the New Northern Policy aims to diversify Korea’s global relationships to reduce Korea’s heavy reliance on China and the United States.

In a speech to the Uzbek parliament on Friday, Moon also brought up the lessons Central Asian countries can give to the denuclearization process on the Korean Peninsula and expressed his hopes that inter-Korean relations could be improved to the point that South Korea could be connected to the rest of Asia by rail.

Last week, Moon was in Turkmenistan, where he signed an agreement to expand energy and infrastructure cooperation following a trip to a chemical plant built partly with Korean businesses, which now have the vending rights to its products.

After arriving in Kazakhstan on Sunday, Moon will hold a summit with President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

At the summit, Moon will discuss efforts to build trust with the new Kazakh administration and expand cooperation.

Moon is scheduled to return to Korea on Tuesday.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]

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