South Korea, Saudi Arabia sign agreement on defence cooperation

SEOUL: South Korea and Saudi Arabia on Sunday signed a memorandum of understanding to expand defence cooperation, Seoul’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) said, as Seoul looks to ink further arms sales in the region.

The agreement will see the two establish a joint committee to form a working group for weapons systems research and development as well as production to continue cooperation in defence, DAPA said in a press release on Monday.

Defence minister Shin Won-sik, who was visiting Riyadh for the World Defense Show as part of a week-long trip to the Middle East, and his Saudi counterpart Khalid bin Salman Al Saud were present during the signing of the agreement, according to DAPA.

A foundation of defence cooperation, which amounts to a “future-oriented strategic partnership,” has been established, Shin was quoted as saying in a South Korean defence ministry press release.

Shin also held talks with Abdullah bin Bandar Al Saud, the minister of Saudi Arabia’s National Guard, to discuss strengthening bilateral military cooperation and defence partnerships, the ministry said.

South Korea is looking to boost sales to become one of the world’s largest suppliers of weapons, despite stiff competition from other global arms exporters.

Its arms sales jumped to $17 billion in 2022 from $7.25 billion the year before, data from the defence ministry showed.

The country’s weapons exports to the Middle East grew nearly tenfold between 2013 and 2022, according to the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

In recent years, South Korean companies Hanwha, Poongsan and LIG Nex1 concluded deals with Saudi Arabia, collectively worth around $989 million, for multiple rocket launchers, ammunition and electro-optical systems, and more deals could be in the works, according to a November report by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).

“Arab Gulf states are looking to diversify their sources of defence procurement and partnerships beyond their traditional Western suppliers,” the report said. “And Seoul can offer increasingly advanced equipment alternatives, often at competitive prices and with shorter lead times.”

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