SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea pledged Tuesday to double aid to African nations over the next three years in an effort to better reach out to the continent rich in energy resources, growth potential and business opportunities.
In the pledge made at a joint South Korea-Africa cooperation forum in Seoul, the government said by 2012 it would double the $107 million in annual official development aid given in 2008.
Increasing aid to more than $200 million a year by 2012 reflects the growing importance South Korea attaches to Africa as an economic partner and a source of energy resources, officials said.
Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan said South Korea plans to focus on offering its know-how learned from building Asia's fourth-largest economy from the ashes of the 1950-53 Korean War.
"South Korea has tried to become an idealistic cooperating partner to Africa and will continue to do so in the future," Yu told the forum.
Cabinet ministers and senior officials from 15 African nations, including Nigeria, Senegal and Kenya, attended the one-day event as representatives of the 53-member African Union, an intergovernmental organization among African nations.
"Korea's advanced technology, efficient and affective management expertise and extensive experience in fostering human resource development can create tremendous synergies when combined with the huge human and material resources of Africa," Ethiopia's Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin told the forum.
South Korea's outreach comes as neighboring Japan and China have been trying to woo Africa with similar pledges of massive aid. Earlier this month China promised $10 billion in new loans to African nations over the next three years.
"Africa is increasingly important for us not only in broadening our diplomatic horizon, but also in securing energy resources," a Seoul government official said on condition of anonymity citing department policy.
South Korea's leading Chosun Ilbo newspaper also quoted an unidentified official as saying, "Africa is considered the world's last-remaining growth engine due not only to its energy resources but also to its potential to become a giant market."
Trade between South Korea and African countries amounted to $13.43 billion in 2008, with Seoul's exports rising 13.7 percent to $9.38 billion from the year earlier, according to Korea International Trade Association figures. Through October this year, however, South Korea's exports to Africa fell about 20 percent compared to the same period last year as the country's overall exports suffered amid the global economic crisis.