South Korean President Park Geun-hye kicked off a six-day tour of Central Asia on June 16 in Uzbekistan.
Park was reportedly pushing for new joint gas-sector projects in Uzbekistan, and offering investment in a $300-million solar energy plant that is to be built in Samarkand as part of Uzbekistan’s fledgling renewable energy industry.
Two deals worth $350 million were signed on June 17, Uzbek media reported. Under the first, the Korea International Cooperation Agency will provide $250 million for investment in unspecified projects; the second involves a $100 loan agreement between the National Bank of Uzbekistan and South Korea’s Exim Bank to invest in joint projects.
Park and her Uzbek host, President Islam Karimov, issued a joint statement vowing to boost trade and investment, especially in the IT sphere, as well as road and rail construction, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.
South Korea’s INHA University is to open a university in Tashkent specializing in IT courses in the coming academic year, it was reported in March.
With an estimated $8 billion worth of joint projects, South Korea is now one of Uzbekistan’s largest investors, along with Russia, China, and Kazakhstan. One of South Korea’s top investment spheres is energy; South Korean companies are building a gas processing plant at the Kandym gas field and a gas and chemical plant at the Surgil field. Textiles have also attracted South Korean interest, with three factories owned by Daewoo International corporation operating in Uzbekistan.
This involvement in the textile industry has proved controversial due to links with the cotton industry, where human rights activists accuse Tashkent of employing forced labour on a mass scale.
The economic partnership with Seoul is important to Tashkent, which struggles to attract investment since western investors tend to shun Uzbekistan due to its murky business climate.
Campaigners in the past have urged South Korean companies and the government in Seoul to rethink their involvement and support a boycott of cotton from Uzbekistan.
Park heads for Kazakhstan on June 18, before winding up her Central Asia tour in Turkmenistan at the end of the week.