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The Peninsula

Beyond Semiconductor and Auto Exports

Published May 9, 2022

On May 2, South Korea and Norway kicked off the annual defense industry cooperation talk in Seoul with a focus on Oslo’s prospective acquisition of Korean tanks. Both players hope to also deepen bilateral and regional cooperation through joint defense research. This is representative of Korea’s broader effort to play a bigger role in the global defense industry market.

South Korea’s focus on deterring North Korea’s provocation for the last 70 years helped fuse together security cooperation with the United States and the cultivation of the domestic defense industry. As a result, South Korea’s arms industry has produced high-quality domestic weapons like the K9 self-propelled howitzer and FA-50 light combat aircraft, modeled after their American counterparts.

South Korea’s home-grown military system attracted many foreign clients looking for high-quality weapons that are similar to American hardware but much cheaper. This helped South Korea become the 9th largest arms exporter in the world between 2016 and 2020, accounting for 2.7% of the world’s total defense exports. In January 2022, Seoul signed its biggest arms deal yet with the United Arab Emirates (USD 3.5 billion) and Egypt (USD 1.7 billion) after President Moon Jae-in visited the Middle East.

Moreover, South Korea attracts buyers with promises of technology transfer and local manufacturing. For instance, South Korea promised local manufacturing of howitzers in India and Australia as a part of the deal. Also, the South Korean manufacturer of the K9 promoted technology and experience sharing with and between customers. ‘ The government hopes to build on these ties to enlarge its security cooperation with clients and further expand the country’s defense industry.

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Kayla Harris, David Lee, Sarah Marshall, and Mai Anna Pressley. Picture from the flickr account of Bryce Smith

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