Past Events


Date: Thursday, May 14 and Friday, May 15, 2015
Venue: Conference Room (2F), The Asan Institute for Policy Studies

On May 14-15, 2015, the Middle East and North Africa Program at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies co-hosted a workshop with the Middle East Institute at the National University of Singapore, titled “Globalization and the Ties that Bind: Korea and the Gulf.” The workshop, co-sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, covered the diverse political, religious, security, social, and economic linkages between Korea and the Gulf.

During the opening session, Mr. Kwon Hee-seog, Director General of the African and Middle Eastern Affairs Bureau at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, delivered opening remarks in which he noted the growing importance of the Gulf to Korea for several reasons. First, the Gulf states are playing a key role in preserving the region’s stability, including in the fight against terrorist groups such ISIL, from which Korea is no longer immune. Second, Gulf states are not only key suppliers of oil and gas, but are also an important destination for Korean exports. Third, Gulf states are important long-term partners for Korea as evidenced by growing people-to-people and cultural exchanges. In discussing President Park Geun-hye’s recent four-nation tour of the Gulf, Mr. Kwon noted that the trip had succeeded in reaffirming not only the energy relationship but also diversified it into new areas such as health, information technology, cyber security, finance, and nuclear energy. Most importantly, Mr. Kwon concluded that the trip has increased Korean interest in the region as whole.

Session one, titled “Politics: GCC Integration, Political Reforms, Governance,” discussed the ongoing political turmoil in the region on the one hand, and efforts to strengthen and develop state capacity in the Gulf on the other. Dr. Peter Sluglett, Director of the NUS Middle East Institute, provided an overview of how the 2011 Arab revolutions have stalled and how factors such as poverty, inequality, sectarianism, lack of accountability, and repression pre-date the uprisings. Dr. Jang Ji-Hyang, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, next spoke on the “First Middle East Boom” in the 1970s and its lessons for the Gulf. Dr. Jang suggested that a public service committed to meritocracy and strong state backing were crucial to Korea’s economic development and that the Gulf could pursue a similar development strategy.

Session two, titled “Religion: Islam in Korea and the Gulf,” examined the influence of religious movements in political discourse. Dr. Zoltan Pall, a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the NUS Middle East Institute, examined the evolution of Salafist movements in the Gulf, especially in Kuwait. Dr. Pall elaborated on the views of different Salafist groups vis-à-vis state power and political activism. Next, Prof. Park Hyondo, HK Research Professor at the Institute for Middle Eastern Affairs at Myongji University, spoke on the evolution of Islam in Korea and the different groups that exist within the Korean Muslim community. Prof. Park detailed the growing importance of Muslim migrant communities and the role that ethnic Korean Muslims are playing in facilitating inter-faith dialogue with Korea’s Christian and Buddhist communities.

Session three, titled “Security: Failed States, Terrorism, and Sanctions,” explored state fragmentation in Iraq as well as North Korea’s destabilizing activities in the Gulf. Dr. Fanar Haddad, a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the NUS Middle East Institute, spoke on the deteriorating security situation in Iraq driven by a state failure and sectarian tensions which have given rise to radical extremist groups such as the so-called Islamic State. Dr. Go Myong-Hyun, a Research Fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, presented the findings of a recent report into North Korea’s use of forced laborers in the Gulf. Dr. Go posited that the North Korean laborers are kept in conditions tantamount to slavery, with their wages confiscated to fund the North Korean regime’s lavish lifestyle and nuclear and missile programs.

Session four, titled “Society: Demographic and Cultural Ties,” examined the influence of Asia in changing cultural norms in the Gulf. Dr. Veronika Deffner, Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the NUS Middle East Institute, spoke on the impact of Asian migrants in Gulf societies. Given that migrant workers far outnumber Gulf nationals, these groups have had a disproportionate impact on the urban spaces in many Gulf cities. Dr. Nele Lenze, Research Fellow and Editor at the NUS Middle East Institute, next discussed the influence of Korean and Asian digital culture in the Gulf. From the popularity of e-sports to fashion trends, Dr. Lenze noted how digital media is increasingly defined by a convergence between the global and local.

Session five, titled “Economy: Trade, Finance, and Energy,” discussed the multifaceted economic relationship between Korea and Gulf. Prof. Clement Henry, Visiting Research Professor at the NUS Middle East Institute, spoke on what he called “the Islamic finance crescent” that connects the Gulf to Southeast and East Asia. Noting the prominent role of Southeast Asian countries in Islamic law compliant financing, Prof. Henry explored the possibility of Korea’s future role in the industry. Finally, Dr. Lee Kwon-Hyung, Head of the Middle East and Africa Team at the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy, examined the future outlook for Korea’s trade relations with the Gulf and attempts to diversify the relationship into new sectors. Dr. Lee detailed opportunities for closer collaboration in public-private partnerships as well as the potential of sovereign wealth funds, commercial banks, and the Islamic Development Bank to provide increased financing for new projects.

 Program agenda is available in the above link. Proceedings book forthcoming.