From K-pop to Kimchi, a wave of mutual cultural benefit

Relations between the UAE and South Korea began in the business arena, but the Korean-Emirati partnership is now deepening along cultural lines as well.

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Until recently, South Korea and the UAE were virtual strangers, separated by geographic distances and vast cultural differences. But the year 2009 was a significant milestone in our two nations' relations, upgraded from ordinary diplomatic ties to a so-called strategic partnership.

Much of this refocus has been the result of a Korean consortium's winning bid to build nuclear power plants in the UAE. Naturally, implementation of this long-term project will bring an influx of Korean talent which means more families and more Korean culture on UAE soil. In fact, we believe as many as 10,000 Koreans will move to the UAE within the next three years.

But this will not be a one-sided move. Quite the contrary. As Koreans look to make the UAE home, expatriates from Korea will in turn look to share our culture and to learn from the UAE.

These efforts are already paying dividends. Emiratis themselves are increasingly interested in Korean culture, and the so-called Korean Wave - Hallyu, which refers to the spread of Korean culture around the world - is blossoming in the UAE. For two nights beginning this evening, Korean culture and dance will be on display at the capital's National Theatre. We encourage the public to attend.

Beyond this annual event, fan clubs are being formed among the younger Emirati generation to enjoy and share Korean pop culture. The Arirang Club at UAE University, and the Korean Club at Zayed University, are good examples.

More and more students are also enrolling in Korean language classes at the King Sejong Institute at Zayed University, which opened last autumn with support from the Korean government. Now, more than 50 people are taking classes.

And a growing number of Emiratis are travelling to South Korea to see the country for themselves. The old saying "seeing is believing" is an undeniable truth today.

Koreans are doing the same by exploring Emirati culture and the Arabic language. More than 20 Korean students are studying in various universities in the UAE to broaden UAE-Korea cultural and educational relations. These are welcome starts. But we have much more to learn from each other.

For nearly 2,000 years, Korea has made the most of its geographical advantages in northeast Asia. Koreans have embraced Confucianism, Buddhism and oriental arts, and further developed them into their own traditions, while also creating a dynamic culture: Taekwondo (Korean martial arts), Pansori (Korean monologue-style opera) and Kimchi (spicy fermented cabbage), to name a few examples.

Historically, Korean people have been well-known for their particular love and talent for music and dance. Indeed, our unique, everyday passion for music and dance has been long developed into a unique pop culture, which is becoming increasingly popular in Asia and Europe in the forms of Korean pop (K-pop) music and dance groups (as anyone who attends the special cultural events at the National Theatre will discover).

In order to enhance Korea's image as a culturally advanced country and to meet the growing demand for K-pop culture, the Korean government has launched various cultural exchange programmes to help spread these assets around the world.

The Korean government is also inviting opinion leaders from Middle Eastern countries, including the UAE, to visit Korea and experience the country.

Various cultural programmes to promote two-way communication are being considered as well. A good example is the annual Asia Song Festival in Korea where popular singers from both Korea and other Asian nations have entertained diverse audiences since 2004.

And in the UAE, the Korean government is exploring ways to promote reciprocal visits of traditional music and dance troupes.

In these and many other ways, closer political and economic ties will lead to increasing exchanges and contacts in the fields of culture, sports and academics. Under the outstanding leadership of our two countries we are looking ahead to an even brighter future of cooperation based on our shared vision and values.

Choung Byoung-gug is the former minister of culture of the Republic of Korea, and a current member of the National Assembly. For information on the 4th Korea-Arab Friendship Caravan and events planned for Abu Dhabi, visit