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Comments: Korea’s next export boom won’t be french fries or K-pop

South Korea is making headlines when it comes to the arms trade.

On July 27thordersouth Korea Signed one of the largest export contracts ever. It’s not for semiconductors, ships, or Korean Drama. Instead, it focuses on a little-known but rapidly expanding sector of the South Korean economy: weapons.

At a military base in Morag, Poland signed an agreement to buy 1,000 tanks, 600 artillery pieces and nearly 50 combat aircraft from Seoul, by companies such as Hyundai Rotem and Hanwha Defense. Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak made it clear why his country made the purchase: Poland needs state-of-the-art defense capabilities, to be delivered as soon as possible. Korea is the only country that can meet both conditions.

Around the same time, Korea attend Its first NATO summit was in Madrid, along with other Asia-Pacific leaders. But while Russia and China are the main focus of attention, the conversation regarding North Korea has another important component: advanced technology.

President Yoon Suk-yeol held more than a dozen bilateral meetings during the NATO Summit in Madrid. At these meetings, he touted Korea’s advanced weapons systems, nuclear power plants and burgeoning space industry as potential export growth areas for the Korean economy. Country.

High-tech ‘sales diplomacy’

While the rest of the world continues to obsess over the Korean Wave or the latest Samsung or LG smartphones or flat-screen TVs, the Korean government is quietly working side-by-side with public companies. leading technology to find the country’s next growth engine.

This is Korea’s tried-and-true strategy to stay globally competitive. Government investment in blue-sky research, working closely with the private sector to analyze and address future growth engines, and develop these technologies in ways that benefit both businesses private revenue and the treasury of the Korean government.

This relationship brings us back to the NATO Summit. Korean manufacturers like Hanwha has become one of the few international weapons systems companies to gain a foothold in the NATO market. In fact, South Korea is the only Asian country that exports to the alliance members, which include Norway, Poland and the United Kingdom. Korea already belongs to the world eighth largest arms exporteraccording to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Korea has benefited from the need to develop technologies for domestic use. In April 2021, then-President Moon Jae-in beaming smile when he delivered a speech in front of Korea’s first domestically produced fighter, the KF-21 Boramae. Countries like Thailand, Philippines, Iraq or Qatar have show interest in jet aircraft, manufactured by a consortium associated with the South Korean government, Korea Aerospace Industries and the Indonesian government. What started as a project to contain North Korea and China is poised to bring huge economic benefits to South Korea.

The same applies to the space sector. Last June, President Yoon attended the first session Successful launch of a South Korean rocket to put a satellite into orbit. Developed by the government’s Korea Aerospace Research Institute, the Nuri rocket is also designed for domestic use, able to put a surveillance satellite into orbit to check on Pyongyang and Beijing. But foreign buyers will certainly be interested, too.

Nuclear power plants are also gaining interest abroad with the majority state-owned company KEPCO joining consorts in Egypt or the UAE to develop the sector in these countries — which itself Pro-Korea needs to push to reduce dependence on oil and gas from the Middle East and Russia, and pursue energy self-reliance.

So is green shipping, with heavyweights like Hyundai, Samsung or Daewoo jostling to lead at the global level but South Korea is also looking to limit its own carbon footprint.

Korea is developing on two advantages as part of a high-tech sales strategy. The first advantage that cannot be said is that Korea is not China. As relations between the US and China sink to levels not seen in decades, Seoul could become a reliable partner for countries and companies looking to build supply chains with limited or no Chinese involvement.

Korean high-tech products are also cheaper than competitors in the US and elsewhere. Certainly, products from Lockheed Martin and Boeing more advanced than their Korean counterparts. But most countries don’t need the latest gadgets. They just need something advanced enough to allow them to fend for themselves. That’s what Korea offers.

South Korea Inc. are now competing at the technology frontier, not only in consumer technology but also in strategic technologies. The United States, Japan, and Europe are better acquainted with this new competition.

Ramon Pacheco Pardo is Professor of International Relations at King’s College London and President of KF-VUB Korea at the Brussels School of Management. He is the author of Shrimp to Whale: Korea from the Forgotten War to K-Pop.

Opinions expressed in Fortune.com commentary are those of their authors only and do not reflect the views and beliefs of Luck.

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