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South Korea’s “New Silk Road” to Central Asia: Diplomacy and Business in the Context of Energy Security

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As an energy-poor country with an energy-intensive economy, the Republic of Korea (ROK) is forced to import the vast majority of its energy sources. It must do so from the distant Middle East and compete with equally energy-hungry neighbors such as China and Japan. As South Korea seeks to diversify its energy sources away from the Middle East and away from oil, it has the following comparative advantages: the ROK represents a recent economic miracle, implements country-specific government-led trade and aid, and boasts aggressive conglomerates not put off by high-risk, long-term investments. This paper outlines the ROK’s particular energy vulnerabilities, discusses Central Asian states’ unique opportunities, and explores the ROK’s comparative advantages and “New Silk Road” to the region, specifically contrasting the cases studies of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. South Korea’s interactions with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have been largely firm-led or government-led respectively. Central Asia is a natural partner for the ROK to mitigate its energy insecurities through diversifying resource type and geographic sources. South Korea securing the necessary resources for its own economy while developing consumer markets for future exports highlights the complementarity between the ROK’s energy security interests and Central Asia’s economic growth.

Alison Sinead Evans is a second-year M.A. student at SAIS, concentrating in Korea Studies. A graduate of Oxford University, she received her B.A. in Japanese and Korea Studies, specializing in classical literature. She also completed her dissertation on deaf education in Japan. Previously, she worked as a Coordinator for International Relations for a city in Japan. She has also worked for the European Commission, Mitsui Cooperation, and Korea Air Cargo. A British citizen, she grew up in Singapore, Germany and the Netherlands.