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Yoon and Saudi crown prince agree on economic cooperation

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Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, right and Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud shake hands before their bilateral summit at the presidential residence in Hannam-dong, Yongsan District, in central Seoul Thursday. [PRESIDENTIAL OFFICE]

President Yoon Suk-yeol and Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud agreed to strengthen defense, energy and infrastructure cooperation and work towards a “future-oriented strategic partnership” on Thursday.  
“Saudi Arabia is Korea’s largest trading partner in the Middle East, and a key partner for economic and energy security as well as in overseas construction,” Yoon said during the in their first bilateral summit in Seoul, according to the presidential office.  
The crown prince kicked off a one-day official visit to Seoul early Thursday. It is his first trip to the country in over three years.  

At the presidential residence in Hannam-dong on Thursday, Yoon and Prince Mohammed held talks accompanied by their aides, followed by one-on-one talks and a luncheon. The meeting lasted around two and a half hours.  

Korea and Saudi Arabia mark the 60th anniversary of diplomatic ties this year.

The leaders agreed to develop relations to a “future-oriented strategic partnership” and establish a “strategic partnership committee” to help the leaders oversee the development of relations.  

“Now is the time to take the relationship between our two countries to a new level,” Yoon said, expressing support for Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 policy, aimed at reducing the nation’s dependence on oil and diversifying into new sectors.

Yoon said he is looking forward to expanding cooperation in terms of defense sales, the development of future energy sources, such as hydrogen, and investment into new growth industries, his office said.

He also said Korea wants to take part in Saudi’s mega-projects, such as NEOM, a futuristic megacity.  

Korean companies have been keen on winning construction deals with Saudi Arabia as it seeks for partners for NEOM, the crown prince’s $500 billion urban project first proposed in 2017 to build a sustainable smart city in its northwestern province of Tabuk along the Red Sea.

Noting that Korean companies made great contributions to the development of Saudi infrastructure, accumulating trust in the process, Prince Mohammed said he would like to enhance cooperation between the two countries specifically in the fields of energy, defense and infrastructure, according to the presidential office.

The crown prince said he would like to cooperate with Korea in development of hydrogen energy, carbon capture technology, nuclear power plant management and small modular reactors (SMR).

In the defense sector, the prince said he hoped for cooperation in both “hardware and software” to help strengthen Saudi Arabia’s defense capabilities, according to Yoon’s office.

The prince asked for the “active participation” of Korean businesses, including small and medium-sized companies, to help realize his Vision 2030.  

Prince Mohammed expressed support for Seoul’s efforts to contain Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile threats and showed support for Yoon’s “audacious initiative” to help North Korea’s economy, provided it takes steps toward denuclearization.  

The leaders also “strongly condemned” North Korea’s recent provocations and agreed to “respond sternly” as responsible members of the G20 and the international community if North Korea conducts a seventh nuclear test.

The two sides agreed to boost cultural exchanges and tourism and said the Korea-Saudi Vision 2030 Committee will manage the various areas of cooperation across sectors.  

After months of renovations, Yoon moved into the new presidential residence just 10 days ago, on Nov. 7, and the crown prince is the first official guest, the presidential office said.  

“Saudi Arabia is a very important cooperative partner country in terms of Korea’s economy and security, and the venue for the meeting was decided as official residence reflecting the wishes of the president and the first lady to treat their foreign guests with special respect,” said Kim Eun-hye, senior presidential secretary for press affairs.

The crown prince last visited Seoul in June 2019 and met with then President Moon Jae-in and South Korean business executives. That visit had been the first by a Saudi crown prince since 1998.

In September, Prince Mohammed, who was already serving as de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, was named prime minister, a post traditionally held by the king. He previously served as Saudi’s defense minister and deputy prime minister.  

Prince Mohammed arrived at the Seoul Air Base in Seongnam, Gyeonggi, in the early hours Thursday morning and was welcomed by Prime Minister Han Duck-soo.

He was accompanied by a number of officials, including Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, Saudi’s energy minister, and Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud bin Naif, the interior minister.  

During the visit, Prince Mohammed also met with a number of business leaders. They were: SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won, Samsung Electronics Executive Chairman Lee Jae-yong, Hyundai Motor Group Executive Chair Euisun Chung, Hanwha Group Vice Chairman Kim Dong-kwan, Doosan Chairman Park Jeong-won, Daelim Group Chairman Lee Hae-wook, CJ Group Chairman Lee Jay-hyun and HD Hyundai CEO Chung Ki-sun.

A slew of memorandums of understanding were signed.  

Both Busan and Saudi Arabia’s Riyadh are seeking to host the World Expo 2030.  

Yoon and the crown prince briefly exchanges greetings at the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia on Tuesday.  

“Welcome HRH Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman! Pleased to have had a milestone discussion today,” Yoon wrote in a Tweet Thursday afterwards. ‘Let’s keep working together to build a new future-oriented strategic partnership!”

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]