Moon Jae-in's visit to Egypt, a turning point in relations between Cairo and Seoul

Gamal Essam El-Din , Tuesday 18 Jan 2022

South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in’s visit to Egypt this week signals a turning point in relations between the two countries, writes Al-Ahram Weekly

South Korea s President Moon Jae-in
South Korea s President Moon Jae-in

South Korean President Moon Jae-in is due in Cairo from Wednesday to Friday, the first visit to Egypt by a South Korean president in 16 years.

At a press conference on Sunday, South Korea’s Ambassador to Cairo Hong Jin-Wook said that President Moon’s visit to Egypt comes as part of a regional tour that also includes the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

“President Moon will meet with President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi to discuss political, economic, and military relations between the two countries,” said Hong. He added that President Moon’s visit comes within the comprehensive partnership agreement signed between the two countries during President Al-Sisi’s visit to Seoul in March 2016.

In the five years since the agreement was signed political and economic relations between Egypt and South Korea have reached new heights, covering almost all aspects of cooperation, according to Hong.

Al-Sisi and Moon will review joint projects which the two presidents endorsed in 2016, and discuss a raft of new projects.

Hong said presidents Moon and Al-Sisi have forged close personal relations. “In addition to meeting in Seoul in 2016, they met while participating in the UN General Assembly meeting in New York. They speak regularly on the phone to discuss mutual relations.”

Hong described President Moon’s visit this week as a turning point in bilateral relations. “Egypt is the first African country President Moon visits during his presidential term. South Korea considers Egypt a centre of gravity for business and politics in the Middle East and Africa. South Korea’s economic strategy in recent years has been focused on reinforcing relations with Middle Eastern countries, particularly Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.”

The ambassador revealed that “a press conference for the two presidents will be held on Thursday, after which President Al-Sisi has invited President Moon and his delegation to lunch.

“On Thursday afternoon the two presidents will attend an Egyptian-South Korean roundtable on renewables and environment-friendly industries.”

Presidents Moon and Al-Sisi will also discuss South Korea’s participation in the construction of Egypt’s Dabaa nuclear power plant west of Alexandria. South Korean companies have offered to provide technical support for the project in cooperation with the Russian state company of Rosatom.

South Korea is also expected to announce details of a $1 billion soft loan to Egypt, which Hong said will fund a variety of projects in Egypt, including helping upgrade the railway network, and establishing a local electric vehicles\industry and desalination plants.

The visit will also see the signing of a number of agreements. The South Korean companies Samsung and LG have recently reached a partnership agreement on manufacturing products in Egypt which will be exported with a Made-in-Egypt label.

“Ninety per cent of Egypt’s electronic exports are made in partnership with South Korean companies,” said Hong, a figure likely to grow after the auto firm Myoung Shin begins producing electric microbuses in cooperation with Egypt’s state-owned Engineering Automotive Manufacturing Company.

Hong also revealed that the visit will see the two countries form a joint committee to probe the possibility of drafting a free trade agreement between them that “could lead to a boom in Korean investments in Egypt”.

A number of cabinet ministers and more than 40 journalists will accompany President Moon during his visit, which will have the spin-off benefit of promoting Egypt as a tourist destination in the South Korean market.

Hong said the new agreements between Egypt and South Korea will help Egypt implement its 2030 vision.

“South Korea will contribute to implementing President Al-Sisi’s Decent Life initiative by establishing a number of environmentally friendly industries and transport networks, and help promote efforts to digitise local government,” he said.

Hong also referred to the growth in military and security cooperation between the two countries. Some press reports have suggested Egypt is interested in importing battle tanks from South Korea.

Ambassador Mohamed Hegazi, a former deputy foreign minister for Asian affairs, told the Middle East News Agency (MENA) that “commercial exchanges between Egypt and South Korea soared to $2.5 billion in 2021, and if President Moon’s visit ends with the signing of a free trade agreement between the two countries this figure could easily double.”

*A version of this article appears in print in the 20 January, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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