By Park Hye Ri and Kim Minji
President Moon Jae-in, fresh from a tour of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, has stressed the importance of Central Asia to the Korean economy, urging the opening of a "Silk Road of steel" with the three nations.
The day before his return home on April 22, he wrote on his Facebook page, "Our future is to open an era of the Silk Road of steel with Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan," adding, "The results of this three-nation tour will be utilized to maintain our economic vitality."
President Moon returned home on April 23 at Seoul Airport in Seongnam, Gyeonggi-do Province, after an eight-day trip spanning the Central Asian nations of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.
In his first visit to Central Asia, he confirmed each country's support for his New Northern Policy and deeper bilateral cooperation through high-level summits.
In Turkmenistan from April 16-18, the president pledged higher collaboration in energy and infrastructure. On the second leg of his trip in Uzbekistan, he agreed to upgrade bilateral relations to the level of a special strategic partnership. And in his final stop of Kazakhstan from April 21-23, he discussed enhancing bilateral relations and cooperation for peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula and Central Asia.
President Moon also agreed with the three nations to strengthen ties in next-generation growth engines such as digital health care, 5G and space exploration. He also signed memorandums of understanding in areas like the Fourth Industrial Revolution, medical services, and information and communications technology, and established a basis to raise bilateral cooperation.
"President Moon has strengthened the foundation for the full-fledged entry of the New Northern Policy," Kim Hyun-chong, a deputy director at the National Security Office under Cheong Wa Dae, told a news briefing on April 22.
"Following his tour of Southeast Asia for the New Southern Policy in March, Korea’s diplomatic and market expansion prospects have expanded from south to north."
President Moon also sought to lay the groundwork for Korean business expansion in the Central Asian market and resolve related difficulties. He obtained guarantees from the three nations on 24 projects (five in Turkmenistan, 15 in Uzbekistan and four in Kazakhstan) worth USD 13 billion.
Cheong Wa Dae said these guarantees will expand opportunities for Korean companies in the Central Asian market.
In Kazakhstan on April 21, President Moon also became the first Korean head of state to host a repatriation ceremony abroad.