With eye on the North, South Korea courts Africa with development aid

South Korea will expand development aid to Africa and pursue deeper cooperation with the region of 1.3 billion people on critical minerals and technology, President Yoon Suk Yeol said Tuesday as he hosted dozens of African leaders in the inaugural Korea-Africa Summit.

In a speech, Yoon urged African countries to take firmer steps in an international pressure campaign against North Korea. The North recently accelerated its tests of nuclear-capable weapons systems and flew hundreds of balloons to drop tons of trash and manure on South Korea as relations between the war-divided Koreas worsen.

Africa’s 54 states are an important bloc at the United Nations and hold three rotating seats on the Security Council. Representatives from 48 African nations, including 25 heads of state, are attending South Korea’s two-day summit, where talks are expected to focus on trade and investment.

Trade with African nations currently accounts for less than 2% of South Korea’s total imports and exports.

Following Tuesday’s meeting, South Korea and the African nations announced that they will start high-level talks aimed at improving cooperation over minerals. The African continent is a major source of nickel, cobalt, graphite and lithium, which are crucial for technology industries such as semiconductors, batteries and electric vehicles, which are major export items for South Korea.

South Korean officials say expanding ties in minerals and other natural resources would help improve the country’s supply chain resilience in key technology industries. There are concerns in South Korea that it may face growing challenges in securing a stable supply of core minerals since it has secured a much smaller number of mines than the United States, China and Japan.

Yoon said South Korea also plans to expand its cumulative development aid contributions to Africa to around $10 billion by 2030 and separately provide $14 billion in export financing to encourage South Korean investment in the region.

Mauritania President Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, the current chairperson of the African Union — a new G20 member — expressed hope for South Korean investment in “important sectors such as commerce, new technologies, energy, food, security, human capital and infrastructure” and expressed confidence in a “durable partnership” ahead.

The countries also vowed stronger collaboration in the building of sustainable infrastructure in Africa, including data-driven smart cities and intelligent transportation systems. The continent has some of the world’s least-developed infrastructure.

South Korea’s outreach to Africa comes at a time when North Korea is becoming more active in trying to break out of its diplomatic isolation and build cooperation with countries confronting the United States, as its leader Kim Jong Un embraces the idea of a “new Cold War.”

In a statement in May, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said the country’s relations with Africa will “continue to develop invariably” and that it will continue to support the region’s struggle for “independent development under the banner of non-alignment as well as independence against imperialism.”

Yoon said the security situation of the Korean Peninsula is in a “very serious state” following a series of North Korean provocations and military activities, including an unsuccessful launch of a military reconnaissance satellite last month. He expressed hopes for coordinating with African nations to build pressure on North Korea.

“Along with our friends in Africa, South Korea will fully implement U.N. Security Council resolutions and work to safeguard peace on the Korean Peninsula and the international community,” Yoon said.

In a joint statement, South Korea and the African nations reaffirmed their commitment to the full implementation of U.N. Security Council resolutions against North Korea and highlighted the “importance of the efforts of the international community to achieve a complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”