08/31/2022, 17.25
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Weapons and nuclear power to boost Seoul's exports

by Guido Alberto Casanova

South Korea announces huge contracts with Poland for tanks and howitzers at the NATO summit in Madrid. South Korean companies will also work with Russia’s Rosatom to build reactors for Egypt’s nuclear power plant in El Dabaa. President Yoon wants to sell at least 10 new nuclear plants by 2030.

Seoul (AsiaNews) – Since his first international foray at the NATO summit in Madrid in June, it has become clear that South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol is trying to boost foreign sales of South Korean nuclear reactors and weapons.

"This will mark the beginning of summit-level sales diplomacy for new export-centred businesses,” said Choi Sang-mok, senior presidential secretary for economic affairs.

At the Madrid summit, South Korean leaders met a number of their European counterparts interested in South Korean technologies.

“This time we started with nuclear power and the defence industry, but over the next five years, the list will grow,” Choi explained. It didn't long for the first orders to arrive.

On Saturday, South Korea’s Defence Acquisition Program Administration announced that Poland signed contracts worth US$ 5.76 billion with two South Korean companies, Hyundai Rotem and Hanwha Defense, to buy tanks and howitzers.

The deals were reached last month and represent South Korea’s most important military sales.

Since the parties involved have not yet revealed the real extent of the agreement, some reports suggest that it might be as high as US$ 15 billion. An official announcement is expected today.

This follows Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which prompted Poland to launch a plan to modernise its armed forces.

In an interview last month, Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said that South Korean suppliers enjoyed a competitive advantage, including in terms of speed of delivery and industrial production, noting that Poland’s South Korean partners were prepared to accept its conditions.

In fact, President Yoon has repeatedly expressed his intention to contribute more actively to Europe’s security, based on shared values, and his presence at the NATO summit in Madrid was proof of it.

Yet, Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power, a company controlled by government-owned Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO), struck a deal with Atomstroyexport, a subsidiary of Rosatom, Russia’s State Atomic Energy Corporation.

The agreement, which was signed last week, is worth US$ 2.2 billion. It would see the South Korean company supply materials to build four reactors for Egypt's El Dabaa nuclear power plant, which Egypt awarded to the Russian energy giant in 2017.

According to the South Korean government, cooperation with Rosatom should not entail any issues. "Yes, fundamentally Russia is sanctioned," said an official with South Korea’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, “But Rosatom is not on the sanction list, and therefore we won't have any problem in getting paid."

The agreement follows a preliminary deal reached last December. To that end, South Korean authorities did consult with their US counterparts with Washington reportedly acknowledging that Seoul's position does not conflict with the policy of pressure towards Moscow.

For South Korea, this is the first contract to export its nuclear technology in over a decade while President Yoon aims at obtaining at least 10 projects by 2030.

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