Commentary: South Korea’s subsequent export increase will not be chips or Okay-pop

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Commentary: South Korea’s subsequent export increase will not be chips or Okay-pop

South Korea is making a splash on the subject of the arms commerce.

On July 27th, South Korea signed one among its greatest export contracts ever. It wasn’t for semiconductors, or ships, or Korean dramas. As an alternative, it targeted on a little-known, but quickly increasing, sector of the South Korean economic system: arms.

At a army base in Morag, Poland inked an settlement to purchase 1,000 tanks, 600 howitzers, and practically 50 fighter jets from Seoul, made by corporations like Hyundai Rotem and Hanwha Protection. Polish Protection Minister Mariusz Blaszczak was clear about why his nation made the acquisition: Poland wanted state-of-the-art protection capabilities, to be delivered as quickly as doable. South Korea was the one nation that might fulfill each circumstances.

Across the identical time, South Korea attended its first NATO Summit in Madrid, together with different Asia-Pacific leaders. However whereas Russia and China had been the principle focus of consideration, the dialog concerning Korea had one other essential element: superior expertise.

President Yoon Suk-yeol held over a dozen bilateral conferences throughout the Madrid NATO Summit. At these conferences, he touted South Korea’s superior weapons programs, nuclear energy vegetation, and burgeoning house trade as potential export development areas for the South Korean economic system.

Excessive-tech ‘gross sales diplomacy’

Whereas the remainder of the world continues to obsess in regards to the Korean Wave or the newest smartphone or flat display TV from Samsung or LG, the South Korean authorities is quietly working in tandem with main tech companies to search out the nation’s subsequent development engine.

That is South Korea’s tried-and-tested technique to stay globally aggressive. Authorities funding in blue-sky analysis, shut cooperation with the personal sector to research and choose future development engines, and the event of those applied sciences in a manner that advantages each personal revenues and the coffers of the South Korean authorities.

This relationship takes us again to the NATO Summit. South Korean producers comparable to Hanwha have turn out to be one of many few worldwide weapon programs companies to realize a foothold within the NATO market. In truth, South Korea is the one Asian nation exporting to alliance members, together with Norway, Poland and the U.Okay. That’s a formidable feat for a rustic that, till the 2010s, was barely a participant on this market. Korea is already the world’s eighth-largest arms exporter, based on the Stockholm Worldwide Peace Analysis Institute.

South Korea has benefited from the necessity to develop applied sciences for home use. In April 2021, then-president Moon Jae-in beamed as he delivered a speech in entrance of South Korea’s first-ever home-grown fighter jet, the KF-21 Boramae. Nations comparable to Thailand, the Philippines, Iraq, or Qatar have already shown interest within the jet, manufactured by a consortium involving the South Korean authorities, Korea Aerospace Industries, and the Indonesian authorities. What began as a challenge to discourage North Korea and China is poised to carry big financial advantages to South Korea.

The identical applies to the house sector. Final June, President Yoon attended the primary successful launch of a South Korean rocket to place a satellite tv for pc into orbit. Developed by the federal government’s Korea Aerospace Analysis Institute, the Nuri rocket was additionally designed for home functions, maybe placing a surveillance satellite tv for pc into orbit to examine on Pyongyang and Beijing. However international consumers will surely have an interest as effectively.

Nuclear energy vegetation are additionally attracting abroad curiosity with majority state agency KEPCO becoming a member of consortiums in Egypt or the UAE to develop the sector in these nations—which South Korea itself wants to spice up to scale back dependency on oil and fuel from the Center East and Russia, and pursue vitality autonomy.

So is inexperienced transport, with heavyweights Hyundai, Samsung, or Daewoo racing to prepared the ground on the international stage but additionally as South Korea seeks to restrict its personal carbon emissions.

South Korea is banking on two benefits as a part of its high-tech gross sales pitch. The primary, unstated benefit is that South Korea just isn’t China. As relations between the U.S. and China sink to ranges not seen for many years, Seoul may turn out to be a trusted partner for nations and firms searching for to construct provide chains with restricted or no Chinese language involvement.

South Korea’s high-tech merchandise are additionally cheaper than its rivals within the U.S. and elsewhere. Definitely, merchandise from Lockheed Martin and Boeing are extra superior in comparison with their South Korea friends. However most nations don’t want the newest devices. They simply want one thing superior sufficient that enables them to guard themselves. That’s what South Korea affords.

South Korea Inc. now competes on the technological frontier, not simply in client expertise, however strategic applied sciences as effectively. The U.S., Japan, and Europe higher get used to this new competitors.

Ramon Pacheco Pardo is a Professor of Worldwide Relations at King’s Faculty London and the KF-VUB Korea Chair on the Brussels College of Governance. He’s the writer of Shrimp to Whale: South Korea from the Forgotten Battle to Okay-Pop.

The opinions expressed in Fortune.com commentary items are solely the views of their authors and don’t replicate the opinions and beliefs of Fortune.

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