Beyond Oil: Saudi Vision 2030 and Saudi–South Korean Relations

Inwook Kim
Singapore Management University

Saudi Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia’s bid for economic and social transformation, has been quietly gathering renewed interest in South Korea amid the unfolding drama with the nuclear program of its northern brethren. The latest sign of this engagement occurred when minister Khalid al-Falih of Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Energy, Industry, and Mineral Resources (MOEIMR) met with president Moon Jae-In on May 4 of this year. Their 35-minute private reception was rare for a minister’s meeting, according to a Blue House official, signifying that interest in Saudi Vision 2030 is at the highest possible level.1 During his visit, al-Falih also met with his counterpart, minister Paik Un-gyu of the Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Energy (MOTIE).

The two affirmed their shared commitment to Saudi Vision 2030 by strengthening cooperation on energy and industry and exploring business opportunities and economic development. It continues recent efforts to expand, diversify, and institutionalize the two countries’ bilateral economic linkages, following the establishment of the Korea-Saudi Vision 2030 Committee in 2017 and Paik’s visit to Saudi Arabia in early 2018. South Korea actively seeks engagement opportunities in Saudi Vision 2030. Not only does the plan promise huge business opportunities, but Seoul also believes that its government and business community possess the suitable experience and expertise needed to meet some of Vision 2030’s key objectives. Al-Falih similarly has expressed an intention to expand the scope of its relations with South Korea beyond oil exports.

The interests in cooperating appear mutual and the scope of trade promises to be both wide-ranging and sizable. The stakes and implications of the new initiative raise several basic yet critical questions. Where is Saudi–South Korea cooperation heading? What makes Saudi Arabia and South Korea good partners in pursuing and realizing Saudi Vision 2030? What are the challenges and vulnerabilities? Ultimately, what is the best way forward?