Korea, Saudi Arabia renew ties through hydrogen, AI projects

President Moon Jae-in receives a welcome by Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at King Khalid International Airport, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday (local time). Yonhap

By Nam Hyun-woo

RIYADH ― President Moon Jae-in and Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman held a summit on Tuesday (local time), and explored ways to expand bilateral ties in the fields of hydrogen energy, construction and artificial intelligence (AI).

The President arrived in Riyadh for a two-day official visit to Saudi Arabia upon the 60th anniversary of bilateral ties. Saudi Arabia is Korea's largest trading partner in the Middle East and is also the biggest market for Korean builders. The leaders met in 2019 when the crown prince visited Seoul.

Initially, Moon was scheduled to meet the crown prince at Al Yamamah Palace. But the prince unexpectedly showed up at the airport to welcome the Korean leader.

According to the crown prince's office, Prince Mohammed's appearance at a foreign leader's reception is "a very special occasion" and reflects the importance of the relations between Korea and Saudi Arabia, Moon's spokeswoman Park Kyung-mee said.

During their official meeting, Moon said that the two countries have built their bilateral relations on cooperation in the infrastructure sector, and their ties are now expanding to hydrogen energy, nuclear energy, defense, healthcare and other future-oriented fields.

Prince Mohammed responded by saying he has high expectations for Korea's participation in Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030, a strategic framework to reduce the Middle Eastern country's dependence on oil and diversify its economy, and hopes to see tangible results in the two countries' cooperation.

Vision 2030 is Prince Mohammed's signature initiative.

As part of that initiative, Saudi Arabia is pursuing a project called NEOM smart city and both Moon and the crown prince expressed their hopes for the participation of more Korean companies.

President Moon Jae-in and Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman exchange words at a reception room at King Khalid International Airport, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday (local time). Yonhap

Highlighting their meeting was cooperation in hydrogen energy with four memoranda of understanding (MOU) being signed between Korean and Saudi Arabian hydrogen-related companies.

Korea Electric Power Corp. and Saudi Aramco signed an MOU to cooperate in hydrogen and ammonia production and distribution. Aramco also signed MOUs on hydrogen supply with its Korean unit, S-Oil, and H2Korea, an alliance of hydrogen companies in Korea. POSCO and Samsung C&T jointly inked an MOU with the Public Investment Fund, the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia, on the joint development of green hydrogen, which refers to hydrogen produced from renewable energy sources.

Also at the meeting, Saudi Arabia signed a letter of intent to purchase Korea's "Dr. Answer" AI-based programs which help diagnose and examine patients by using medical big data. The software was developed to compete with IBM's Watson Health, as part of Moon's Korean New Deal initiative.

Korean and Saudi Arabian health authorities have cross tested Dr. Answer's compatibility on Saudi Arabians from July 2020 to April last year, and five Korean companies' programs for Dr. Answer will be exported to the Middle Eastern country.

Also at the meeting, Korea's Kumho Tire and Saudi Arabia's Black Arrow Tire signed an MOU on a joint venture, which will be the first tire manufacturing facility in Saudi Arabia.

Moon will stay in Saudi Arabia until Wednesday and depart for Egypt, which will be the last destination of his eight-day Middle East and Africa trip.

Nam Hyun-woo namhw@koreatimes.co.kr

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