South Korea is making a splash with regards to the arms commerce.

On July 27th, South Korea signed considered one of its greatest export contracts ever. It wasn’t for semiconductors, or ships, or Korean dramas. Instead, it targeted on a little-known, but quickly increasing, sector of the South Korean economic system: arms.

At a army base in Morag, Poland inked an settlement to purchase 1,000 tanks, 600 howitzers, and practically 50 fighter jets from Seoul, made by firms like Hyundai Rotem and Hanwha Defense. Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak was clear about why his nation made the acquisition: Poland wanted state-of-the-art protection capabilities, to be delivered as quickly as doable. South Korea was the one nation that would fulfill each situations.

Around the identical time, South Korea attended its first NATO Summit in Madrid, together with different Asia-Pacific leaders. But whereas Russia and China have been the primary focus of consideration, the dialog relating to Korea had one other essential part: superior expertise.

President Yoon Suk-yeol held over a dozen bilateral conferences in the course of the Madrid NATO Summit. At these conferences, he touted South Korea’s superior weapons programs, nuclear energy crops, and burgeoning area business as potential export progress areas for the South Korean economic system.

High-tech ‘sales diplomacy’

While the remainder of the world continues to obsess concerning the Korean Wave or the most recent smartphone or flat display TV from Samsung or LG, the South Korean authorities is quietly working in tandem with main tech companies to seek out the nation’s subsequent progress engine.

This is South Korea’s tried-and-tested technique to stay globally aggressive. Government funding in blue-sky analysis, shut cooperation with the non-public sector to research and decide on future progress engines, and the event of those applied sciences in a approach that advantages each non-public revenues and the coffers of the South Korean authorities.

This relationship takes us again to the NATO Summit. South Korean producers equivalent to Hanwha have turn into one of many few worldwide weapon programs companies to achieve a foothold within the NATO market. In truth, South Korea is the one Asian nation exporting to alliance members, together with Norway, Poland and the U.Ok. That’s a formidable feat for a rustic that, till the 2010s, was barely a participant on this market. Korea is already the world’s eighth-largest arms exporter, in line with the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

South Korea has benefited from the necessity to develop applied sciences for home use. In April 2021, then-president Moon Jae-in beamed as he delivered a speech in entrance of South Korea’s first-ever home-grown fighter jet, the KF-21 Boramae. Countries equivalent to Thailand, the Philippines, Iraq, or Qatar have already shown interest within the jet, manufactured by a consortium involving the South Korean authorities, Korea Aerospace Industries, and the Indonesian authorities. What began as a challenge to discourage North Korea and China is poised to convey large financial advantages to South Korea.

The similar applies to the area sector. Last June, President Yoon attended the primary successful launch of a South Korean rocket to place a satellite tv for pc into orbit. Developed by the federal government’s Korea Aerospace Research Institute, the Nuri rocket was additionally designed for home functions, maybe placing a surveillance satellite tv for pc into orbit to verify on Pyongyang and Beijing. But overseas patrons would definitely have an interest as properly.

Nuclear energy crops are additionally attracting abroad curiosity with majority state agency KEPCO becoming a member of consortiums in Egypt or the UAE to develop the sector in these nations—which South Korea itself wants to spice up to cut back dependency on oil and gasoline from the Middle East and Russia, and pursue vitality autonomy.

So is inexperienced delivery, with heavyweights Hyundai, Samsung, or Daewoo racing to cleared the path on the international stage but in addition as South Korea seeks to restrict its personal carbon emissions.

South Korea is banking on two benefits as a part of its high-tech gross sales pitch. The first, unstated benefit is that South Korea will not be China. As relations between the U.S. and China sink to ranges not seen for many years, Seoul might turn into a trusted associate for nations and firms searching for to construct provide chains with restricted or no Chinese involvement.

South Korea’s high-tech merchandise are additionally cheaper than its opponents within the U.S. and elsewhere. Certainly, merchandise from Lockheed Martin and Boeing are extra superior in comparison with their South Korea friends. But most nations don’t want the most recent devices. They simply want one thing superior sufficient that enables them to guard themselves. That’s what South Korea presents.

South Korea Inc. now competes on the technological frontier, not simply in shopper expertise, however strategic applied sciences as properly. The U.S., Japan, and Europe higher get used to this new competitors.

Ramon Pacheco Pardo is a Professor of International Relations at King’s College London and the KF-VUB Korea Chair on the Brussels School of Governance. He is the writer of Shrimp to Whale: South Korea from the Forgotten War to Ok-Pop.

The opinions expressed in commentary items are solely the views of their authors and don’t mirror the opinions and beliefs of Fortune.

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