South Korea’s Energy Diplomacy Towards Central Asia, by Sogaku Miyamoto

South Korea, which imports 97 percent of its total energy consumption, has actively conducted resource-seeking diplomacy in Central Asia. South Korea believes that by the mid twenty-first century, Central Asian countries, such as Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Azerbaijan, will become major energy suppliers, replacing the Middle East. Thus far, the South Korean government has successfully created a more politically and economically favorable environment to secure energy supplies from Central Asia and has also opened up opportunities for those who seek energy development in the region. President Lee’s development of strong personal relationships with leaders in the region has been particularly effective, as these countries still tend to have authoritarian regimes under which their leaders have more concentrated political power. However, uncertainties such as the region’s high economic volatility, underdeveloped civil society, weak democratic institutions, and corruption could undermine the effectiveness of South Korea’s energy diplomacy in the region. In addition, the scale of Korean investment and economic assistance in the region is significantly smaller than that of China and Japan. To this end, South Korea should take a holistic and strategic approach to meet its goals and overcome the difficulties associated with energy development in Central Asia by improving the comprehensive political risk assessment and crisis response system in the region and also by pursuing regional cooperation with Japan and China.

“South Korea’s Eneregy Diplomacy Towards Central Asia,” is an excerpt from Part I of the 2009 SAIS U.S.-Korea Yearbook.

Sogaku Miyamoto is a second-year M.A. candidate at SAIS concentrating in American foreign policy. He holds a B.A. in natural science from the University of Cambridge. He works for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan (MOFA) and is studying at SAIS as part of the Foreign Service training program sponsored by the Ministry. Sogaku joined MOFA in 2006 and worked in the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty Division in the North American Affairs Bureau from 2006-2008. His academic interests include American foreign policy towards Northeast Asia and Asian energy security.