DOHA, Qatar -- South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani agreed on Wednesday to upgrade bilateral ties by forging a comprehensive strategic partnership ahead of the two countries’ 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations next year.
Under the agreement, the two countries will expand communication channels in the fields of diplomacy and security, as well as bilateral cooperation in the defense industry. The leaders, during their summit held the same day, shared their views on the need to expand cooperation across various fields including infrastructure, agriculture, shipping, culture and health.
“Recently, Qatar has emerged as one of the world’s leading defense importers,” Kim Tae-hyo, first deputy director of South Korea's National Security Office, told reporters in Doha.
“As we agreed to exchange defense industry information and establish a joint committee through the signed memorandum of understanding, this state visit will be the first step toward realizing the potential of cooperation between the two countries in the defense industry into concrete results.”
A high-ranking official from the presidential office, speaking under condition of anonymity, said that the talks with Qatar are at an earlier stage compared to those with Saudi Arabia.
“We are currently finalizing a specific defense industry cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia. With Qatar, this memorandum marks the commencement of detailed discussions on defense industry cooperation,” he explained.
He further noted that in contrast to situations with the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia -- where specific contracts are either being finalized or implemented -- the recent memorandum with Qatar has established a “foundation” for systematically advancing comprehensive defense industry cooperation.
"This visit has significantly strengthened our collaborative efforts in the energy and construction sectors, which have been pivotal in fostering Korea-Qatar relations," said Kim of the NSO.
Qatar stands as one of the top liquefied natural gas exporters globally, playing a vital role in the international energy market alongside Saudi Arabia. For South Korea, Qatar is a major trading partner, ranking as its second-largest source of LNG imports following Australia. Additionally, Qatar is the eighth-largest supplier of crude oil to South Korea and represents the eighth-largest market for South Korea's overseas construction projects.
During Yoon's state visit to the country, a first for a South Korean leader, 12 memorandums of understanding worth over $4.6 billion were signed between companies from the two countries, according to Yoon's office.
HD Hyundai Heavy Industries secured a $3.9 billion contract to build 17 LNG carriers in an agreement with the state-owned QatarEnergy, according to Choi Sang-mok, the presidential secretary for economic affairs. The deal includes costs for operations and maintenance of LNG carriers.
The other 11 memorandums cover cooperation in smart farms, solar energy, autonomous vehicles, cultural content, health care and finance, and they were set to be signed at the Korea-Qatar Business Forum, which Yoon and Qatar’s emir attended.
In addition to economic cooperation, the two leaders held in-depth discussions on the situation in the Middle East and global issues, and agreed to continue to strengthen cooperation on regional and international issues.
Yoon said he hopes that Qatar, which is acting as a mediator in the region, will be able to contribute to easing tensions in the region through communication with relevant parties and that South Korea will “play a necessary role” and contribute in the process.
Yoon requested that Qatar cooperate with the international community’s stern response to North Korea’s illegal nuclear and missile development, and the emir of Qatar “expressed support” for South Korean policy toward the Korean Peninsula, according to Kim.
Yoon extended an invitation to Qatar's Emir for an official visit to South Korea. The Emir has accepted the invitation to visit Seoul next year, and the two countries have agreed to work out the specifics through diplomatic channels, according to the presidential office.