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[Opinion] Korea-Arab Society

Posted May. 27, 2008 08:53,   


The competition between China, India and Japan to win the hearts of African nations has become fiercer, especially after China offered a sweetener worth $9 billion including development funds, interest-free loans and grant-type aid to leaders of 48 African nations at the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in November 2006. India soon followed suit by promising to expand loans to the continent to $5.4 billion over the next five years and offering $500 million worth aid at the India-Africa Forum Summit, which was attended leaders and ministers of 14 African nations in April. Japan will also appeal to the continent by doubling investment in Africa to $2.5 billion and offering $4 billion in aid over the next five years. It plans to make the announcement in the fourth Tokyo International Conference on African Development, which will begin tomorrow in Yokohama.

One of the Nigerian dailies described the competition among major Asian consumers of natural resources as the fight to win “the beautiful virgin’s” love. This shows that Africans clearly understand the rationale behind the courtship of these countries. Although Korea had been somewhat absent from this competition up until now, it recently notched up its diplomatic efforts to acquire natural resources overseas by launching the Korea-Arab Society (KAS), which seeks to enhance cooperation with the entire Arab world, the world’s largest source of oil reserves. Some 61.5 percent of world’s crude oil and 40.2 percent of natural gas are buried in the Middle East where most of these Arab nations lie.

Representatives of 22 Arab nations attended the founding international conference of the Korea-Arab Society, which was held in Seoul over the last two days. More than 200 dignitaries from the region including not only presidents, royalties and government officials but also business, cultural and academic leaders were present at the event, reflecting the significance of the conference. The Arab world is also known for its Muslim brotherhood, which shows a stronger cohesion between nations compared to African nations. This can play to Korea’s advantage in expanding its diplomatic efforts to acquire natural resources in the region.

One of the groundbreaking ideas that came up in the meeting was to build a non-profit organization based on private and public cooperation with the financial support by the governments, or royalties, and companies of both regions. Strong human networks are the most critical asset in making our diplomatic efforts successful in the Middle East. Therefore, expanding people-to-people exchanges in all levels of the society can be more effective than offering lavish gifts in winning the hearts of resource-rich nations. In this context, the nation hopes the Korea-Arab Society, expected to launch on June 30, would become the channel for enhancing communication and mutual understanding between the two regions.

Editorial Writer Bhang Hyeong-nam (hnbhang@donga.com)