South Korean companies shelve Libya projects as workers flee riots
South Korea, one of the biggest investors in construction projects in the Middle East for more than 40 years and a major importer of oil, may have more to fear than most as it evacuates Koreans in Libya.
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Only a speed bump, says Hyundai
Hyundai officials are convinced, however, that the evacuation of 100 Hyundai workers, including 22 Koreans and 78 from other countries will bring only a temporary halt to a wide range of projects.Skip to next paragraph
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Whoever finally wins in the power struggle in Libya, says Yoon Young-Keun, a Hyundai Construction manager in Seoul, “they need contractors.” As for concerns that Islamic radicals might eventually come to the fore, he says, “We can go with them, too.”
That attitude reflects Hyundai’s long experience in a region in which it has built port facilities, hospitals, apartment blocks, highways, and bridges, among other projects, since the late 1960s. A major figure in that success was South Korea’s President Lee Myung-bak, who rose to chairman of Hyundai Construction, the “mother company” of the Hyundai empire, in the 1970s.
A 'golden land' for Korea
“The Middle East has been the golden land for Korea,” says Park Hyun-do, senior researcher in the Middle East Institute of Myongji University here. “It’s been the land of opportunity since the 1970s.”
Mr. Park fears surging emotions may also turn against Israel, always a target of Arab wrath. “I worry about another possible Arab-Israeli conflict,” he says.
Aside from the danger facing construction projects, Japan and South Korea as huge oil importing economies face the impact of Middle East mayhem on oil prices. Both countries rely almost totally on oil imports, 85 percent of it from the Middle East.
“We are a major oil importer and a large investor,” observes economic adviser Lee Jong-wha. “Developments in the Middle East do have a large impact on the Korean economy. There could be expansion of tensions. If oil prices increase by 10 to 20 percent that has a significant impact.”
For now, however, Korean officials say they do not have to go into emergency reserves while the Korean economy is predicted to grow by 5 percent this year. Korea gets 40 percent of its oil from Saudi Arabia and much of the rest from Persian Gulf states while importing five percent from Libya.
“We wonder about what’s going on after the democracy movement,” says Song Dae-sung, president of the Sejong Institute, an influential think tank here. “Liberal democracy is so difficult. I worry so much about the consequences.”
View gallery: Libya protests