Quietly coming out on October 22nd, top South Korean officials let out their latest plans to begin working with Saudi Arabia right after the Saudis finish a training exercise with China. Announced by Principal Deputy National Security Adviser Kim Tae-hyo, the news came on the heels of South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol’s historic first meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Despite Yoon’s tremendous pre-America approach to global politics, he has been following in our old footsteps and is now establishing himself with the Saudis the same way it seems like he would expect the US to. Numerous South Korean companies have already jumped on board with the Saudi “Neom” resort city project. This led to Salman signing $75 billion in business deals during his own visit back in November.
Now dipping out of commercial and into defense contracting, this could fill the gaping hole President Biden left when he pulled out of deals following his becoming president. Coming on the heels of Islamist Washington Post writer Jamal Khashoggi being murdered while in Saudi Arabia, Riyadh seemed to shrug off Biden’s attempts to blackball the country on a global trade level.
Of the deal, Kim said, “The defense industry is emerging as a blue ocean in our cooperation with Saudi Arabia. Large-scale defense industry cooperation discussions are in the final stage in various areas, such as antiaircraft defense systems and firearms. We intend to cooperate so that our weapons systems using our excellent defense industry technologies help strengthen Saudi Arabia’s defense capabilities…After accomplishing a record-high $17.3 billion in defense exports last year, Europe, the Middle East, and other parts of the world are showing growing interest in Korea’s weapon systems.”
A worker from Yoon’s office told the Korea Times that the contracts were unable to be confirmed. The finalization of what equipment would be sold, how it would be paid for, and what the price would be still had not been solidified, and it would be premature to say it was done. They also claimed that this secrecy was in part due to the situation Saudi Arabia is currently in. With other nations closing in on their territory, it wouldn’t be prudent to say what they are being armed with.
Rumors persist around a surface-to-air missile system South Korea has developed called the “Cheongung-II.” Given the system’s ability to defend against the type of rockets the Houthi terrorist organizations in neighboring Yemen use most. Given their rise to power back in 2015 as they took out the Saudi-backed president in Yemen, they have been keeping control of the lawless region and putting pressure on the Saudis to change their situation.
Biden underscored his contempt for Saudi Arabia by removing Houthis from the US list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. With a motto of “Allah is Great, Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse on the Jews, Victory to Islam,” he thought their battle with the Saudis would mean more to them than their organizational motto.
According to Yoon during his meeting, he is excited to work with the Saudis. “Korea is Saudi Arabia’s optimal partner in the post-oil era. It is encouraging to see the bilateral relationship develop from the traditional sectors of energy and construction to a cutting-edge industrial partnership that jointly produces automobiles and ships, as well as cooperation in the areas of tourism and cultural exchanges.”
While his phrasing is a bit inaccurate, the Saudis will NEVER abandon oil. He sees the golden lining in a relationship with them. Given their decision to also get in bed with the Chinese, South Korea needs to be especially careful. Especially since the thousands of American troops stationed in South Korea are damn near the only reason Kim Jong-un hasn’t made an attempt to reunite the Korean peninsula as one- by force.