S. Korea discusses arms exports to Saudi Arabia, discloses cooperation on large-scale air defense system

Posted on : 2023-10-24 16:45 KST Modified on : 2023-10-24 16:45 KST
The presidential office cited the US$15.6 billion in memorandums of understanding and agreements signed in the energy, power and infrastructure sectors, as well as the expansion of bilateral cooperation into the defense sector during Yoon’s state visit
President Yoon Suk-yeol of South Korea (right) follows Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia at Riyadh’s Al Yamamah Palace for the signing of contracts and memorandums of understanding during his state visit to the kingdom on Oct. 22. (pool photo)
President Yoon Suk-yeol of South Korea (right) follows Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia at Riyadh’s Al Yamamah Palace for the signing of contracts and memorandums of understanding during his state visit to the kingdom on Oct. 22. (pool photo)

With South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol currently on a state visit to Saudi Arabia, the presidential office said discussions on large-scale defense industry collaboration with the country have reached their final stages.

“Discussions are now in the final stages on large-scale defense industry cooperation [with Saudi Arabia] in various areas, including air defense systems and firing weapons,” explained Kim Tae-hyo, the first deputy director of the National Security Office, in a briefing from Saudi Arabia shortly after a bilateral summit in Riyadh’s Al Yamamah Palace on Sunday between Yoon and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

“Rather than one-off cooperation, we’re discussing long-term, systematic defense industry cooperation programs,” he added.

The presidential office cited the US$15.6 billion in memorandums of understanding and agreements signed in the energy, power and infrastructure sectors, as well as the expansion of bilateral cooperation into the defense sector.

“We look forward to working together to ensure that weapons systems with our superior defense technologies help strengthen Saudi Arabia’s defense capabilities,” Kim said, “which will serve as a powerful driver for expanding our defense industry export performance.”

Kim said that the Korean side would use this trip to the Middle East as a “catalyst to expand the reach of our defense industry export markets.”

Prince Mohammed reportedly showed interest in the medium-range surface-to-air missile, the Cheongung II (M-SAM), during his visit in November 2022.

Saudi Arabia is in need of a missile interceptor system as it has been under attack by armed drones from Houthi insurgents in Yemen. However, though a senior presidential office official said, that the deal is in its final stages and the numbers surrounding the deal are “quite large,” they could not disclose which weapon system was being discussed and how large the contract size is, given the sensitive security situation in Saudi Arabia and its neighboring countries.

Yoon exchanged views with the Saudi leader on the international political and economic dynamics surrounding the armed conflict between Israel and Palestine, Kim said, adding that the two leaders agreed on the need to prevent the humanitarian situation in the region from deteriorating.

A senior official in the presidential office summarized the tone of the meeting by saying that the prince “didn’t appear to take any particular side in the current conflict.” In a phone call with Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, on Oct. 10, Crown Prince Mohammed said his kingdom “continues to stand by the Palestinian people.”

The joint statement to be released by South Korea and Saudi Arabia is expected to express their willingness to cooperate on issues such as the current war in Israel and Gaza, the crisis in Ukraine, and the situation on the Korean Peninsula, including North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

Meanwhile, Yoon met with Saudi youth, scientists and businessmen on Monday to reiterate the future cooperation between the two countries.

In a lecture at King Saud University, the crown prince’s alma mater, Yoon said “South Korea and Saudi Arabia must be born again into first movers that develop and lead new areas,” adding, “The driving force that creates and practices change and innovation is all of you, the young people who are the future generation.”

At the South Korea-Saudi Arabia future technology partnership forum, Yoon discussed ways to strengthen science and technology partnerships in four areas: digital, clean energy, biohealth, and space. At an event marking the 50th anniversary of South Korea-Saudi Arabia construction cooperation, he attended the signing of two contracts and two memorandums of understanding between Korean companies, including Hyundai Engineering & Construction, KT, and Samsung C&T.

In total, Yoon’s visit to Saudi Arabia will result in the signing of 51 contracts and 51 memorandums of understanding worth US$15.6 billion.

By Bae Ji-hyun, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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