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South Korea to Expand Energy & Infrastructure Cooperation with Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan

By Aygerim Sarymbetova June 16, 2024

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Turkmen President Serdar Berdimuhamedow and his South Korean counterpart Yoon Suk-yeol signed several significant bilateral agreements in a meeting in Ashgabat, on June 11, 2024. / Chronicles of Turkmenistan

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol discussed increasing cooperation in various sectors during meetings with his Kazakh and Turkmen counterparts on a six-day Central Asia tour.

“The two countries agreed to strengthen the critical mineral supply chain by combining Kazakhstan’s abundant mineral resources with South Korea’s advanced technology,” Yoon stated at a joint press conference in Astana on June 12, as reported by Seoul-based Yonhap News Agency.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed on the critical minerals supply chain, allowing for wide-ranging cooperation in areas from joint exploration to final use. Additionally, agreements were signed on lithium mine exploration and development, low-emission power generation, renewable energy, and the modernization of old power plants.

Kazakhstan’s national oil and gas company, KazMunayGas, and Hyundai Engineering, a South Korean EPC company, signed a cooperation agreement in the oil, gas, and petrochemical industries.

The presidents discussed prospects for bilateral cooperation in energy, infrastructure, industry, engineering, trade, transport and logistics, digitization, the aerospace industry, the financial sector, education, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, tourism, culture, ecology, and other fields.

“The 120,000 ethnic Koreans in Kazakhstan play an important role and make an invaluable contribution to strengthening our relations. In turn, more than a thousand Kazakh students studying in Korea are a ‘golden bridge of friendship’ between our countries,” stated Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

Kazakhstan has large reserves of uranium, chromium, titanium, and rare earth metals, which are significant for South Korean chip and battery makers. Over 700 companies with South Korean capital operate in Kazakhstan. Korea ranks fourth in foreign trade turnover and is among Kazakhstan’s top ten largest foreign investors.

Seoul aims to strengthen cooperation with Central Asian countries and promote the “K-Silk Road Initiative,” which connects South Korea’s technological and innovative capabilities with the development potential and resources of the region.

President Yoon’s tour of Central Asian countries also included Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

On June 10, the South Korean and Turkmen presidents agreed to increase joint efforts in fields such as energy, shipbuilding, transportation, and environmental protection during a summit in Ashgabat.

They also agreed to diversify bilateral cooperation through eight signed documents to boost private-sector engagement in the energy industry, trade, digital economy, and people-to-people exchanges. A nonbinding agreement was signed between South Korea’s Land Ministry and the city of Ashgabat for infrastructure and urban development.

In the private sector, Hyundai Engineering joined a framework agreement to expand wells and a natural gas processing facility for desulfurization at the Galkynish Gas Field in Mary Province, Turkmenistan.

Another cooperation agreement was signed by Hyundai Engineering to restore full capacity operations at the $3.4 billion Kiyanly Polymer Plant on the Caspian coast near Turkmenbashi. The plant, built in 2018 jointly with South Korean and Japanese companies, suspended operations in 2023 due to a fire.

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

Turkmen President Serdar Berdimuhamedow supported the launch of a South Korea-Central Asia summit scheduled for 2025, as well as the South Korea-Central Asia K-Silk Road initiative.

As of 2023, the annual trade volume between South Korea and Turkmenistan amounted to $17 million. Seoul noted the growth potential of Turkmenistan, whose gas reserves represent about 10 percent of the world’s reserves, the fourth-largest globally. Nearly three-fourths of Turkmenistan’s exports stem from its gas industry.