President of the Republic of Korea Yoon Suk Yeol:Together with Uzbekistan we hope to build a high-tech hub in Central Asia and create Innovative Silk Road of the 21st century

Ahead of his State visit to Uzbekistan, President of the Republic of Korea Yoon Suk Yeol spoke to the “Dunyo” Information Agency.

– Mr. President, our conversation is taking place on the eve of your state visit to Uzbekistan, which is currently undergoing deep transformation, similar to what the Republic of Korea experienced in its time. How do you assess the modern development of our country, the socio-economic and democratic reforms carried out by the leadership of Uzbekistan?

–The Republic of Uzbekistan and the Republic of Korea share many historical and cultural characteristics. I always wanted to visit your country and receiving an invitation from the President of Uzbekistan H.E. Shavkat Mirziyoyev has been a great privilege and honor for me.

Under the outstanding leadership of President Mirziyoyev, Uzbekistan has been at the forefront of changes and innovations in Central Asia. Uzbekistan’s economic indicators, including gross domestic product, GDP per capita, balance of payments, and foreign direct investment, have been steadily growing year by year. The market with its high growth potential,  high-quality human capital, and geopolitical value, makes it a very attractive place for doing business and investment by international companies. Before my arrival, I looked at Tashkent from the above [Plane] and witnessed how dynamic Uzbekistan is.

As part of “Uzbekistan – 2030” Strategy announced last year, the country is carrying out reforms in political, economic, and social spheres, achieving great results. Specifically, Uzbekistan stimulates its economy by setting concrete targets such as joining the World Trade Organization, liberalizing the economy, attracting foreign companies, and implementing comprehensive reforms across society, including combating corruption and ensuring the rule of law.

The Republic of Korea, which was once a country of absolute poverty, achieved economic and social development by opening up to the outside world, liberalizing its economy, and fighting corruption in close cooperation with the international community. Building on this experience, the Republic of Korea supports Uzbekistan’s efforts in implementing reforms and, being a special strategic partner, will continue to collaborate closely in the social, economic, and democratic development of Uzbekistan.

– Our countries share economic development and growth as priority directions of foreign and domestic policy. Uzbekistan opens its doors to foreign investments, increases its export potential, and aims for greater cooperation and expanded trade relations. In your view, what are the prospects for bilateral cooperation in these areas? What can contribute to boosting these ties, and what are the challenges?

–Since taking office in 2016, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has pursued a bold policy of reforms and openness that has transformed Uzbekistan into an entirely new country.

A series of measures to liberalize the market, including currency policy liberalization, reduction of customs duties, and restructuring of state-owned enterprises, enabled the revival of the Uzbek economy and improved the investment climate: last year, foreign direct investment (FDI) volume increased by 96.4% totaling $7.68 billion.

Since establishing diplomatic relations with the Republic of Uzbekistan in 1992, the Republic of Korea has expanded its spectrum of economic cooperation, including such areas as car making, energy, household appliance production, textiles, finance, and telecommunications.

In 2019, bilateral relations were elevated to the status of a Special Strategic Partnership, the only one in Central Asia, and bilateral trade volume reached a record $2.46 billion last year. Today, relations between our countries are more mutually beneficial than ever before.

As the world faces a complex global crisis, I believe this represents simultaneously an opportunity for further diversification and deepening of bilateral economic cooperation, including the development of critical mineral supply chains. I look forward to tangible outcomes from the negotiations between our governments and businesses during this visit.

– Today, Uzbekistan strives to consolidate Central Asia and strengthen its potential, developing mutually beneficial cooperation with the nations of the region, maintaining close and good neighborly ties. Thanks to this, Central Asia is becoming an increasingly significant partner and proactive international actor in the international arena. In this regard, how do you think it can affect relations between our countries?

– We know that President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has identified strengthening partnership with regional neighbors as one of the priorities of the country’s foreign policy and plays a leading role in regional cooperation. In 2018, at his initiative the format of the Consultative Meetings of the Heads of States of Central Asia was organized, which are annually held. We also recognize that Uzbekistan is making progress in relations with neighboring Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan on border and water issues, and has been an activepart in the international community’s efforts to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan.

Central Asia is geographically located at the junction between Asia and Europe and has rich natural resources, including rare minerals, its strategic and economic value is rapidly increasing. At the same time, it increases the region’s profile and, more recently, has also led to a growing recognition of the international role and expectations for the Central Asian countries in the international arena.

Taking into consideration the importance of cooperation with Central Asia, our government, shortly before my visit, announced the “K SILK ROAD (R.O.A.D) Cooperation Initiative of the Republic of Korea – Central Asia”. This initiative is based on 30 years of experience between our country and Central Asia and provides a blueprint for new cooperation in response to a rapidly changing international order.

This initiative is the first strategy of the Republic of Korea on Central Asia, and it is based on the principles of developing “side by side” (joint path), “joining forces” (convergence) and “innovation and creativity” (creativity) to jointly build freedom, peace and prosperity in Korea and Central Asia.

In particular, it is aimed at strengthening current strategic partnerships in the fields of energy and resources, modernizing engagements for further development of mutually beneficial economic cooperation, creating partnerships for future prosperity, and promoting a harmonious network of cooperation between governments, businesses and citizens.

The Government of the Republic of Korea will continue consultations and close cooperation with the five Central Asian countries on the implementation of the Central Asia Strategy, while further strengthening mutually beneficial and future-oriented cooperation with Uzbekistan, a key partner and brotherly country in Central Asia.

– In Uzbekistan, a country with a predominant population under the age of 30, great attention is attached to the development of youth, creating conditions for them to receive a quality education and realization of their intellectual and creative potential. Could you share your vision of the prospects for mutual cooperation in the fields of education, science and high technology?

– Although geographically we are far from each other, nevertheless, we are connected by a long and friendly history of exchanging advanced scientific achievements and technologies.

Astronomical tables compiled at the Ulugbek Observatory in Samarkand, the center of the medieval Silk Road, reached the Korean Peninsula and became the basis for the creation of a unique Korean calendar in the 15th century.

More than 600 years later, the governments of Korea and Uzbekistan are working together to establish a research and design institute, the Uzbekistan Center for Chemical Technologies (UzCCT), which will oversee chemical technology research and development in the country, modeled after the Korean Research Institute of Chemical Technology ( KRICT),

Since 2023, at the UST-KRICT Higher School in the Republic of Korea, 12 young Uzbek master’s and doctoral students are studying Korean technologies to become the next generation of researchers who will lead the Center for Chemical Technologies in Uzbekistan and bilateral scientific and technical cooperation.

Korea, strengthening cooperation with Uzbekistan in the field of research and development (R&D) and humanitarian exchanges in the field of advanced sciences and technologies, including ICT, semiconductors for artificial intelligence (AI), hopes to jointly build a high-tech hub in Central Asia and create an innovative Silk Road of the 21st century, which will lead humanity to a scientific and technological breakthrough.

Besides, I hope that in the coming era of artificial intelligence and digital technology, future generations of both countries will live in an interconnected world where they can freely share different ideas and values with each other. The Republic of Korea actively supports innovation in the sphere of digital education to help our youth adapt to digitalization.

For example, we became the first country in the world to nationally develop an “AI digital textbook” that will be used in schools from 2025, allowing students to be trained according to their individual characteristics. We also provide intensive training for teachers to educate students using digital technologies.

As a leading country in AI and digital education, Korea will share with Uzbekistan the examples of learning-integrated innovation and digital education models for future collaboration.

– Both Korea and Uzbekistan are countries with ancient history and rich culture, carefully preserving their historical and spiritual heritage. The frescoes on the walls of ancient Afrasiab in Samarkand, depicting the ceremony of receiving envoys from various countries, including the ancient state of Goguryeo, testify to the deep historical ties between our peoples. In addition, today there is a Korean diaspora in Uzbekistan, numbering almost 180 thousand people. Uzbekistan has become a true homeland for them. They work and contribute to the modern development of our country. What could you say about the modern cultural dialogue and its impact on the development of relations between our countries as a whole?

–Uzbekistan is a country to which we are very grateful for the warm embrace extended to our Korean compatriots who resettled from the Far East 87 years ago. The depiction of the Korean ambassador on the fresco of the Afrasiab palace-museum is evidence that the history of good relations between our countries dates back almost 1400 years. I am glad that cooperation in the preservation of cultural heritage between the two countries is flourishing, symbolized by the Afrasiab Museum in Samarkand – the heart of the Silk Road.

There are 172 thousand Koreans living in Uzbekistan, the largest number out of the total 300 thousand Koreans residing in Central Asia. They live harmoniously in Uzbek society and contribute to the development of Uzbekistan in various fields thanks to the hardworking nature of the Korean people. Since ethnic Koreans understand both cultures well, they diligently fulfill their role as a bridge, allowing Koreans to feel closer to Uzbek culture and Uzbeks to Korean culture.

During my visit, I plan to discuss with President Shavkat Mirziyoyev the ways to further develop bilateral relations in various fields, including energy and infrastructure, healthcare and medical services, climate and the environment, science and technology, and education. We expect that the Korean diaspora in Uzbekistan, which plays an active role in society based on its deep knowledge of both countries, will become a strong conduit for achieving a higher level of bilateral cooperation. Our government will continue to pay attention to and support the Korean diaspora in order to further develop bilateral ties.

– On the eve of your visit to our country, what wishes would you extend to Uzbekistan, its people, and Uzbekistan-South Korea cooperation?

– Since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1992, our countries have developed bilateral ties based on strong trust and friendship, and since the establishment of a special strategic partnership in 2019, our cooperation has been conducted in an even closer format.

I hope for the further strengthening of our special strategic partnership, particularly thanks to President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s state visit to the Republic of Korea in 2021, our meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session last year, and my upcoming state visit to Uzbekistan.

Our government will continue developing friendly relations with Uzbekistan – our only special strategic and key partner in Central Asia, to achieve more mutually beneficial and promising cooperation.

We look forward to further expanding cooperation in various fields, including energy and infrastructure, critical minerals, supply chains, healthcare and medical services, education, digitalization, science and technology, as well as climate change and the environment.

I also believe that to make the relations between the Republic of Korea and Uzbekistan even closer, it is necessary to further intensify people-to-people ties and cultural exchanges based on the trust and friendship between our peoples.

I hope that the people of Uzbekistan will also express warmth and sympathy towards the Republic of Korea.

– Thank you, Mr. President, for your insightful reflections. We wish every success to your upcoming visit to Uzbekistan.

 Thank you.

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