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A two-way street between Kazakhstan and Korea

Kazakhstan has emerged as the principal conduit for South Korean investment in central Asia. Guy Norton reports from Almaty on the future for cooperation.

LIFE HAS NOT always been easy for ethnic Koreans in Kazakhstan. In the 1930s, hundreds of thousands of them from across the Soviet Union were deported to central Asia since Stalin believed they were spying for Japan. As a result, Koreans were treated with suspicion by the Kremlin, and their cultural, linguistic and religious rights were brutally suppressed.

But with the break-up of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991 the 100,000 or so ethnic Koreans in Kazakhstan, known as Koryo-sarams, witnessed a dramatic turnaround in their social and economic fortunes and have helped to form the basis for the development of strong links between Kazakhstan and South Korea.

Koryo-sarams have emerged as a key part of Kazakhstan’s business community and have played a big role in fostering the warm economic relations that now exist between resource-rich Kazakhstan and technology-rich South Korea.

Masses of South Korean goods are on view in the downtown area of Kazakhstan’s commercial capital of Almaty. Whether it’s the hordes of Daewoo buses and Kia cars on the roads, the LG air-conditioning units that have mushroomed on Soviet-era housing blocks or the bulging ranks of Samsung mobile phones, televisions, MP3 players and various other electronic gizmos that adorn the shop windows, it’s clear that Kazakhstan, central Asia’s wealthiest country, has proved a lucrative market for South Korean manufacturers.

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