South Korea, Saudi ties ‘at a turning point’

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A giant banner welcoming Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to South Korea hangs on S-Oil headquarters building in Seoul on Monday. (Reuters)
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South Korean Ambassador Jo Byung-wook believes Saudi Arabia and his country will benefit from joint opportunities resulting from a growing partnership. (AN photo by Yazeed Al-Samran)
Updated 24 June 2019

South Korea, Saudi ties ‘at a turning point’

  • ‘Made with Saudi’ strategy is part of major joint initiative, Korean ambassador tells Arab News

RIYADH: The ties of friendship and cooperation between Saudi Arabia and South Korea have expanded to unprecedented levels during King Salman’s reign, South Korean Ambassador Jo Byung-wook told Arab News.
“In particular, after the launch of Saudi Vision 2030, economic and social reforms driven by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman have provided new opportunities for expanding the bilateral cooperation,” Jo said.
With shared interests and cooperation between the two countries around Vision 2030, the South Korean government has closely consulted with the Kingdom to help realize the wide-ranging reform program, the envoy said.
“The Korea-Saudi Vision 2030 Committee, launched in October 2017, will be the umbrella under which the joint efforts of our two countries will produce more fruitful outcomes,” he said.
The committee serves as an institutional platform to review projects and explore partnership opportunities under Vision 2030. The second Saudi-Korean committee meeting was held in Seoul in April, and the two countries have agreed to carry out 43 projects across five major sectors.
However, it is Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to South Korea June 26-27 that is most eagerly awaited.
It will be the highest-level visit from Saudi Arabia to South Korea since the then-Crown Prince Abdullah led a delegation to Seoul in 1998.
Jo described the forthcoming visit “as one of the most notable and historic events, which shows an even closer friendship and bilateral relations.”
The visit will serve as “a turning point for further strides in bilateral relations between the Republic of Korea and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” he said.
The crown prince will take part in the first official bilateral summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
“The summit is expected to establish future-oriented and mutually beneficial bilateral relations on a basis of the longstanding friendship and partnership between the two countries nurtured for more than half a century,” the South Korean envoy said.
Both countries stand to benefit from the joint opportunities resulting from a growing partnership, Jo said.
“Saudi Arabia has allocated a large amount of resources in order to transform the country into a leading industrial powerhouse and reduce excessive oil-dependency in its economy. This strategy will provide a unique environment for South Korean companies to work with their Saudi counterparts,” he said.
“Until now, Korean companies have focused on exporting ‘Made in Korea’ products, such as cars, electronics and machinery, to the Kingdom. However, the time has come for Korean companies to move beyond simple trade transactions and pursue a ‘Made with Saudi’ strategy.
“Korean companies can work together with Saudi companies in areas such as idea development, design, engineering, manufacturing and even maintenance. In this process, strengths that both countries possess — technology and expertise from Korea, and finance and plentiful young labor from Saudi Arabia, for instance — will create synergies for greater achievements,” the envoy said.

FASTFACT

• Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is scheduled to visit South Korea June 26-27.

• The crown prince will take part in the first official bilateral summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

• Recently launched collaborations between the two countries include the International Maritime Industries Co., Saudi Aramco joint venture with Hyundai Heavy Industries to build the Gulf’s biggest shipyard in Ras Al-Khair.

• The two countries have also designed a SMART reactor, which is an integral-type small reactor originally developed and designed by the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute especially for small or remote cities.

• The crown prince’s visit is likely to facilitate over 43 projects under VIsion 2030.

Recently launched collaborations between South Korea and the Kingdom include the International Maritime Industries (IMI) Co., Saudi Aramco joint venture with Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) to build the Gulf’s biggest shipyard in Ras Al-Khair.
HHI, the world’s third-largest shipbuilding company, will be responsible for design and engineering work at the shipyard. When complete, the SR19.5 billion ($5.2 billion) project will be the centerpiece of the Saudi shipbuilding industry, creating up to 80,000 jobs for the local workforce.
In addition, HHI and Saudi Aramco have been developing another joint project at Ras Al-Khair to produce up to 200 ship engines a year.
Cooperation in the nuclear sector is another “exemplary instance” of strengthening ties between the two countries, Jo said.
“In accordance with the memorandum of understanding signed between the Korean government and King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy in 2015, the two countries have further designed the SMART reactor, which is an integral-type small reactor originally developed and designed by the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute especially for small or remote cities,” he said.
“This collaboration also includes human capacity-building projects with the participation of Saudi nuclear engineers and experts. Through this joint process, I expect that Korea will be able to share with Saudi Arabia its experience and lessons learned that have been accumulated from designing, building and operating nuclear reactors over a long period of time.”
In addition to the SMART reactor, a consortium led by the Korea Electric Power Corp. (KEPCO) is bidding for a project to build the Kingdom’s first two large-size nuclear power plants.
KEPCO, which oversaw construction of the Barakah nuclear power plant in the UAE, is the world’s only contractor with experience of building a nuclear reactor in a desert environment.
“Korea has a proven track record of operating multiple nuclear reactors both safely and economically, and has earned a reputation for building world-class nuclear reactors on time and within budget,” Jo said. “I am confident that Korea will be an optimal partner for Saudi Arabia as it seeks to develop its own nuclear energy industry.”
Jo said: “The two countries have been developing other joint projects which will be new symbols of the close and strong partnership in the future. The crown prince’s visit to Korea will facilitate and accelerate the realization of 43 and possibly even more projects under Vision 2030.”


The case for protecting Saudi Arabia’s ancient art of Khawlani coffee production

Updated 17 January 2020

The case for protecting Saudi Arabia’s ancient art of Khawlani coffee production

  • Saudi Arabia is asking UNESCO to provide protection for the tradition of Khawlani coffee cultivation
  • Six out of 16 provinces in the region of Jazan practice the cultivation of Khawlani coffee beans

JAZAN: At the southernmost tip of Saudi Arabia, just a few kilometers from the Saudi-Yemeni border, is the verdant region of Jazan, blessed with its rocky mountain tops, green wadis, deep forests, hot springs and boundless fertile land. It is also home to the local Khawlani coffee bean.

Although the Arabica coffee bean is well known, most people don’t associate it with Saudi Arabia. While the actual origin of coffee is debatable, the ancient tribes of the Khawlan, in reference to their great ancestor Khawlan bin Amir, located between Jazan and Yemen, have practiced the skills and techniques of cultivating Khawlani coffee beans for over 300 years, with the tradition passed down from one generation to the next through non-formal educational methods, including practical training and observation.

The region of Jazan contains 16 provinces, and six of them practice the cultivation of Khawlani coffee beans. For farmers here, making coffee is a highly respected vocation that gives cultural identity and status to the entire region.

Today, the Saudi Heritage Preservation Society is asking UNESCO to provide protection for the ancient art of Khawlani coffee making. The project, which began in 2019 in collaboration with farmers in Jazan, included documenting the cultivation process of Khawlani coffee beans.

“The number of farmers in Jazan is really high and they face a lot of problems and difficulties, including with water and working resources,” said Rehaf Gassas, project manager at the Saudi Heritage Preservation Society, a nongovernmental organization established in 2010. “Hopefully, by the inscription of this (cultivation process) in UNESCO, it will help promote (Khawlani coffee beans) throughout Saudi Arabia and encourage the nation to help these farmers.”

The bid process itself is time-consuming. It normally takes around 18 months to work on, from field visits to theory work.

On March 31, 2019, the society finished the application and delivered it to UNESCO. By November 2020 they hope to know the decision as to whether they were successful.

“We are very optimistic,” added Gassas. “The community itself is the biggest supporter, because they are very invested in the coffee beans they are planting, and it is really very important to them to show the world that they have this rich culture and heritage.”

Khawlani coffee beans might be one of Saudi Arabia’s best-kept secrets. They are considered one of the finest types of coffee beans in the world, and Saudis are ranked as one of the biggest consumers of the beverage.

In many ways these beans are a national treasure, crucial to the preservation of Saudi heritage and the nation’s cultural identity. “They are described as the green gold of Jazan,” said Gessas. “But there is lack of knowledge amongst Saudis that the Jazan region is one of the biggest producers of coffee in the world.”

In 2017 the Ministry of Interior cited more than 76,390 Khawlani coffee trees farmed by 724 farmers, producing 227,156 kilograms of coffee from an average production of 4 kilograms per tree. “The trees are thought to have been brought from Ethiopia to Yemen, and perhaps from Yemen to the mountains of this governorate,” says deputy governor of Al-Dair, Yahia Mohammed Al-Maliki.

“In the past, people mainly relied on planting coffee beans as one of their major products to make a living during hard times. Nowadays, the situation has changed. People have started to come to the region looking for investments.”

The cultivation process of Khawlani coffee is an arduous one. It involves planting the seeds for the trees, harvesting the fruits that start growing 2-3 years after planting, pruning the trees, collecting the fruits and transferring them to the rooftops of houses to put on dehydration beds in a cool shaded area to dry.

There the fruits must be stirred by hand until they turn black. They are then peeled, roasted and ground. The picking itself involves attention and care. The red color indicates that the fruit is ready for picking, which needs to be done using a twisting method to ensure the branch is not damaged in the process in order to ensure it can bear fruit next season. 

“We hold the fruit and with a little twist, we pick it off the tree,” said Hussein Al-Maliki, owner of Mefraz, a local coffee brand that recently won a coffee roasting competition in the UAE, and which hopes to soon distribute internationally outside the Kingdom.

The significance of Khawlani coffee goes beyond its cultivation. The process entails a celebration of familial ties and heritage as well as respect for the local land. Mohammed Salman, a 70-year-old farmer in Al-Dair, has been cultivating coffee beans since he was born. “I have learned the process of planting coffee from my father, who had inherited it from his ancestors,” he said. “He gets up each morning, performs his prayers, has his breakfast and then goes out to his farm. 

“I stay at the farm irrigating my trees, cleaning the soil, helping the two workers I have here until the sun sets and then get back home,” he continued. On the weekends, Salman’s two sons join him and the cultivation becomes a family activity. “I teach them how to care for our coffee trees and even how to pick the fruits that are ripe,” he added.

At the core of Khawlani coffee is the beauty of generosity. Offering small cups of coffee to guests is an age-old tradition in Saudi Arabia — one practiced since ancient times. For the community of Khawlan, it is of utmost importance to offer visitors coffee using beans harvested from their farms. It’s a sign of honor and respect. Now, on the verge of UNESCO protection, the Khawlani farmers will soon offer their golden cups to the world.