Last month, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak embarked on a tour of Mongolia, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, resulting in the signing of a number of trade deals. In an email interview, Matteo Fumagalli, head of the department of international relations and European studies at the Central European University, discussed South Korea-Central Asia Relations.
WPR: What is the extent of South Korea's diplomatic and trade relations with Central Asia?
Matteo Fumagalli: Unlike his predecessors, who did not place a high priority on Central Asia, President Lee Myung-bak has paid considerable attention to the region. In 2009 Lee launched a new Asia Initiative, of which the New Silk Road Diplomacy is an integral and important part. The strategy tailors the approach to each individual country, with Uzbekistan -- Seoul's main regional partner -- and Kazakhstan at the strategy's core. Annual trade turnover between South Korea and Uzbekistan totaled $1.6 billion in 2010 -- up more than 30 percent from 2009. Bilateral trade with Kazakhstan grew an impressive 50 percent, rising to $760 million in 2010.