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Leaders of Korea, Turkmenistan discuss economy, energy

Partnership to cover wider areas including gas, chemicals, logistics, telecommunications, environmental protection

June 10, 2024 - 19:08 By Son Ji-hyoung
President Yoon Suk Yeol (left) and Turkmen President Serdar Berdymukhamedov shake hands at the summit held at the Oguzkhan Presidential Palace in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan on Monday. (Yonhap)

ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan -- The leaders of South Korea and Turkmenistan on Monday agreed to deepen the "mutually beneficial partnership" of the two countries, which could allow more South Korean companies to join the Central Asian country's construction and infrastructure projects.

At a summit held in the capital of Turkmenistan, President Yoon Suk Yeol and his counterpart Serdar Berdymukhamedov also agreed to diversify bilateral cooperation through eight documents signed to boost bilateral private-sector engagement in the energy industry, trade and the digital economy and people-to-people exchanges.

Seoul and Ashgabat also agreed to work to facilitate the "Joint Commission of Cooperation" to strengthen exchanges in the fields of economy, trade, science, technology and culture. A nonbinding agreement was also signed between South Korea's Land Ministry and the city of Ashgabat for infrastructure and urban development.

In the private sector, South Korean plant builder Hyundai Engineering joined a framework agreement to expand wells and a natural gas processing facility for desulfurization on the Galkynish Gas Field in Mary Province of Turkmenistan, which is 350 kilometers east of Ashgabat.

Another cooperation agreement was also signed by Hyundai Engineering to restore to full capacity the operations of the Kiyanly Polymer Plant on the Caspian coast near Turkmenbashi, about 550 kilometers northwest of Ashgabat. The plant has suspended its operations since 2023 due to a fire, according to Yoon's office.

Also, a working group will be established to foster joint research in the field of clinical oncology and emergency first aid between Kyungpook National University Chilgok Hospital and the Turkmen health care authorities.

The agreement to fortify the "mutually beneficial partnership" is aimed at widening the scope of the bilateral cooperation from gas and chemicals to shipbuilding, textiles, logistics, telecommunications and environmental protection, according to Seoul. The two countries forged the partnership in 2008.

These were enshrined in the joint statement that Yoon and Berdymukhamedov adopted after the summit.

The two leaders also reached a consensus that a peaceful solution to North Korea's nuclear threat and a complete denuclearization of Pyongyang will contribute to peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula and in the world.

The leaders also acknowledged a need to establish a "friendly environment" for Daewoo Engineering & Construction to build two fertilizer plants, each producing urea and ammonia, in Kiyanly, Turkmenbashi of western Turkmenistan.

President Yoon Suk Yeol (second from right, front row) and first lady Kim Keon Hee (right, front row) receive bouquets of flowers from children as they disembarked on the Air Force One at Ashgabat International Airport in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, on Monday. (Pool photo via Yonhap)

It was the second time for Yoon to meet Berdymukamedov, after their first encounter at the United Nations General Assembly in September.

Park Chun-sup, senior presidential secretary for economic affairs, said in a briefing Friday that the state visit to Turkmenistan will "lay out an institutional foundation" to boost trade, given that Turkmenistan "is seeking to nurture its petrochemicals industry and other energy-related industries" to end its dependency on natural gas exports.

South Korea and Turkmenistan established diplomatic ties in 1992, just a year after Turkmenistan declared independence, and forged a "mutually beneficial partnership" in 2008 to allow more South Korean firms to engage in energy and chemical plant construction projects in Turkmenistan.

As of 2023, the annual trade volume between South Korea and Turkmenistan amounted to $17 million.

Seoul has pointed to the growth potential of the country, the gas reserves of which are estimated to represent about 10 percent of the world's reserves -- the fourth most in the world -- according to World Bank figures. Nearly three-fourths of Turkmenistan's exports stem from its gas industry.

Yoon is the third South Korean head of state to have visited the country of some 7 million, according to the presidential office. Since former President Park Geun-hye visited Turkmenistan in 2014, every South Korean leader has followed suit.

Yoon is visiting Central Asia for the first time since his inauguration in May 2022. He also will visit Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan later this week.

The trips are expected to help more South Korean firms foray into the region and lay the groundwork for dialogue. In the meantime, South Korea, a global electronics and automotive manufacturing powerhouse that lacks domestic natural resources, is looking to ensure critical minerals supply chain stability with bolstered ties in the Central Asian region.

President Yoon Suk Yeol and first lady Kim Keon Hee attend a tree planting ceremony at the National Independence Park in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan on Monday. (Yonhap)

Later Monday, Yoon visited the National Independence Park in Ashgabat for a flower-laying ceremony, commemorating Turkmenistan's independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Yoon is scheduled to attended a state dinner hosted by the 42-year-old Turkmen president who in 2022 succeeded his father, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, who now leads the independent People's Council of Turkmenistan, which has the power to amend the constitution.

Monday's event marks Yoon's first diplomatic engagement overseas since December, when Yoon and Kim visited the Netherlands to discuss a semiconductor partnership.

Yoon's plan to visit Germany and Denmark in February was postponed, according to a presidential office announcement just four days before the scheduled departure. Yoon's office has yet to disclose the rescheduled date.

Yoon is to depart Turkmenistan on Tuesday after attending a business forum involving the two countries' business leaders and meeting the People's Council Chair Berdymukamedov, also known as the "national leader."