South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s 8-day tour to Central Asia has begun. First, he visited Turkmenistan (April 17-18), then Uzbekistan (April 19-21) and at the end of the tour Kazakhstan (April 22-24).

It is the first visit to the countries of Central Asia, since the beginning of Moon Jae-in term as president in 2017.

The main interest of the trip is the economy and cooperation in the field of investment.

And, of course, the South Korean president will try to use Central Asian tour in support of his peace initiatives on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The theme of peaceful politics for the benefit of the whole world is present through all visits of the South Korean president.

The program of visits. In Turkmenistan, South Korean President Moon Jae-in during his visit showed interest in cooperation in the energy sector, as well as in infrastructure projects. Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov offered the Caspian port infrastructure. South Korean President Moon Jae-in visited the Kiyanly Oil Refinery (the first Turkmen oil refinery), in which construction Korean Hyundai Engineering Co. took part. Based on the results of the negotiations, Turkmenistan and South Korea agreed on a program of economic cooperation in 2019-2022.

Uzbekistan is the main destination of the South Korean president’s Central Asian tour. President Moon Jae-in will be in Tashkent for the first time. This visit is issued as a state visit, with all the relevant attributes, in terms of a diplomatic protocol. Although this is the second meeting with the President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev. Considering that in 2017, the Uzbek president visited Seoul. (Note: this was the first foreign leader who visited President Moon Jae-in after his election).

In Tashkent, the South Korean president will hold talks with Uzbek President Mirziyoyev and Prime Minister Abdullah Aripov, and will also speak at the Uzbek parliament.

In Uzbekistan, besides Tashkent, President Moon Jae-in will also visit Samarkand.

In Kazakhstan, President Moon Jae-in will meet with the new president, Tokayev, who replaced Nazarbayev, after he retired. For the 10th anniversary of the strategic partnership between South Korea and Kazakhstan.

And in the end, in Akorda Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban asked for negotiations with President Moon Jae-in. Hungarian Prime Minister also happened to be in Kazakhstan during this period (on the way to Beijing to participate in the Second Forum “One Belt, One Way”). The countries of Central Asia are integral parts of the South Korean initiative of the Northern policy.

Diversification policy. The South Korean Northern policy, as well as the Southern policy, are the main initiatives of President Mun Jae-in to diversify the national economy.

The economy of South Korea, which shows a trend towards slower growth (+ 2.9% of GDP, according to the results of 2018), needs diversification. Especially, in the light of “trade wars” between the United States and China.

Considering that traditionally the main trade and economic South Korean partners are the USA and China.

Seoul in the first two years of the Mun Jae-in presidency was actively developing the Southern policy, where the key role belongs to Indonesia and Vietnam, as well as to the countries of the ASEAN economic community.

Seoul is now focusing on Northern policy, where the key role belongs to the countries of Central Asia and Eastern Europe. Especially, Uzbekistan and Ukraine.

For comparison: in 2018 South Korea’s total trade turnover with the top five countries of Central Asia resulted in $ 4.4 billion. At the same time, the total trade turnover with the ten ASEAN was $ 160 billion.

For Seoul, one of the reasons for developing Northern policy cooperation is also related to the fact that the large Korean diaspora resides in these countries. Mostly, the descendants of

Koreans that were forcibly deported as a result of Stalin’s repression of the 30s in the 20th century.

In 1937, by order of the Soviet dictator Stalin, from the Far East of the USSR more than 172 thousand Koreans were deported to the countries of Central Asia (mainly to Uzbekistan). Deportations were carried out by rail, in inhuman conditions (people were transported in freight cars). For example, only during the deportation, about 11 thousand Koreans died.

The Korean Peninsula at that time was under the colonial occupation of Japan.

Japan pursued a hostile policy towards the Soviet Union, being in the same military bloc with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. At the same time, the Koreans have consistently led the national liberation movement against the Japanese occupation administration.

Nevertheless, for some reason, Stalin saw in Koreans a “threat”, considering them potentially “unreliable” in relation to the Soviet regime.

In South Korea, we can witness a revival of national traditions. National consolidation based on democratic values   and the interests of peaceful development is one of the goals Mun Jae-in set for his presidency.

In addition, Seoul also engaged a number of judicial and legal mechanisms for the rehabilitation of victims of repression, war, and the colonial administration. For example, in 2018, the South Korean courts rendered several decisions that oblige large Japanese corporations to pay monetary compensation for the use of Korean forced labor during the years of colonial administration.

At the moment, legal mechanisms of responsibility are also being developed in Seoul for Stalin’s deportations, which ultimately will be preset to Moscow (as the official successor of the Soviet government).

The topic of compensation to victims of Stalinist repression was discussed at meetings of President Moon Jae-in with representatives of the Korean diaspora in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.

Uzbekistan, in turn, also sees a lot of benefits from the development of cooperation with South Korea.

The first Uzbek President Islam Karimov, trying to balance foreign politics by diversification to decrease the dependence on Russia and China, actively promoted cooperation with South Korea.

Diplomatic relations between Uzbekistan and South Korea were established in 1992, and the strategic partnership between the two countries has been in operation since 2008.

The current Uzbek president Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who took office in 2016, fully supports this relationship. As a result, South Korea is now in the top five major importers of Uzbekistan. The eloquent fact is that there are even more direct flights between Tashkent and Seoul than, for example, between Tashkent and Beijing.

What is important and what does it mean for Ukraine?

The countries of Central Asia are only part of the South Korean Northern policy.

The focus of Seoul in this context is on Eastern Europe. Especially, Ukraine and Belarus. Accordingly, in the future, the interest of Seoul to the Belt countries between Europe and Asia will only increase.


by Igor Shevyrov

(originally posted on


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