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S. Korea, Kazakhstan agree to bolster mineral supply chain

MOUs to give S. Korean firms priority in mineral exploration, development in Kazakhstan: Yoon

June 12, 2024 - 16:54 By Son Ji-hyoung

President Yoon Suk Yeol (left) and Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev attend a joint press conference in Astana, Kazakhstan on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

ASTANA, Kazakhstan -- South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and his Kazakh counterpart President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev agreed Wednesday to strengthen bilateral cooperation in critical minerals exploration and development.

The presidential office said this would bolster the bilateral strategic partnership between the two nations, with his state visit to Kazakhstan marking the first by a South Korean leader in five years.

During the summit of Yoon and Tokayev in Astana, the capital city of Kazakhstan, a document was signed to set up a critical minerals supply chain between South Korea -- home to automotive powerhouses like Hyundai and Kia and battery manufacturers that work with electric vehicle makers -- and the Central Asian country rich with uranium, chrome, titanium and bismuth.

Yoon said that the memorandum of understanding between South Korea's Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy and the Kazakh Ministry of Industry and Construction would allow South Korean firms to get priority in a mineral development and commercialization project in a Kazakh mine once it proves lucrative.

Moreover, the document will lay the groundwork for cooperation between South Korea and Kazakhstan in the entire stage of mineral development -- from exploration to refinement and commercialization.

"We two leaders agreed that cooperation between South Korea in pursuit of a global pivotal state and Kazakhstan looking to build the new Kazakhstan is more important than ever in the face of multifaceted international crises and uncertainties," Yoon said in a joint press conference with Tokayev following the summit. "To achieve this, we agreed to develop our strategic partnership into a more mutually beneficial, future-oriented one."

Also, according to the joint statement Wednesday, Kazakhstan's state-run natural uranium producer KazAtomProm will join uranium supply bids in South Korea.

President Yoon Suk Yeol (second from left) and Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev (third from left) walk along a carpet as Tokayev received Yoon for a summit held at Akorda Presidential Palace in Astana, the capital city of Kazakhstan, on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

At the summit held at Akorda Presidential Palace in Astana, the two countries also agreed to maintain close cooperation concerning Kazakhstan's new projects in the energy sector and the oil and gas sector, respectively.

Two memoranda of understanding were signed, between the ministers of energy of the two countries and between South Korea-based energy solutions firm Doosan Enerbility and Kazakhstan's sovereign wealth fund, Samruk-Kazyna, to nurture power industry development cooperation in Kazakhstan. These memoranda were aimed at promoting the use of renewable energy in Kazakhstan and refurbishing old power plants in the Central Asian country, backed by South Korean entities' engagement.

South Korean builder Hyundai Engineering and state-run oil and gas company KazMunayGas signed a memorandum of understanding for a new oil and gas project in Kazakhstan, which holds the 12th-largest volume of oil reserves and 16th-largest natural gas reserves in the world.

These were among the 11 documents signed during the summit of Yoon and Tokayev.

Tokayev said in the press conference that he was "confident" business ties could be strengthened, given that trade volume between the two countries reached $6.5 billion as of 2022 and over 700 South Korean firms have operations in Kazakhstan. Tokayev also acknowledged Doosan Enerbility's power plant project and Samsung Electronics' project to build home appliances production line in Kazakhstan.

According to the documents, their fields of cooperation will also revolve around knowledge sharing, science, technology, forestry, human resource management in civil service, banking supervision and emissions reduction, among others.

Later on Wednesday, 24 more documents were inked during a business forum that followed the bilateral talks.

Yoon told the 300-strong audience of the business forum that South Korea could be a crucial partner for Kazakhstan's development of manufacturing industries, particularly the automotive industry.

Yoon also expressed hopes that, given their proven record, more South Korean firms could join in projects related to crucial minerals in Kazakhstan, as well as in infrastructure projects related to transport, electricity and gas.

President Yoon Suk Yeol delivers the opening remarks at a business forum held in Astana, Kazakhstan on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

The two countries established a strategic partnership in 2009, about two decades after Kazakhstan declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 and established diplomatic ties with South Korea in 1992.

At the summit, Yoon sought support for the multilateral K-Silk Road initiative, designed to bolster South Korea's ties with the Central Asia region.

Yoon and Tokayev also reaffirmed Kazakhstan's support for a free, peaceful and unified Korean Peninsula. They condemned North Korea's military provocations and development of nuclear missiles, vowing to join hands with the international community to sanction any attempt to send money illegally to North Korea.

Yoon arrived in Kazakhstan Tuesday evening, as the country marks the second destination in his state visits to three Central Asian countries: Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

On Tuesday, Yoon met some 120 overseas Koreans in Astana. Yoon said work is in progress to "upgrade the strategic partnership" with Kazakhstan, where some 120,000 Koryeoin, or ethnic Koreans of the former Soviet Union, are estimated to live.

Before the summit, Yoon and first lady Kim Keon Hee attended a flower-laying ceremony at the Monument of Gratitude to Kazakh People in Astana.

Yoon is scheduled to depart Astana on Thursday.