S. Korean President Moon Jae-in hails K-pop's impact on Middle East trip

K-pop stars have "charmed the world", South Korean President Moon Jae-in said at Dubai's Expo in the United Arab Emirates. PHOTO: REUTERS

DUBAI (AFP) - South Korea's soft power matches its economic achievements, President Moon Jae-in said on Sunday (Jan 16) at the start of a Middle East tour expected to focus on business and trade opportunities.

K-pop stars have "charmed the world", he said at Dubai's Expo in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the first leg of a trip that will also take him to Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Mr Moon talked up the Korean pop music, TV and film that have become wildly popular in many countries across the globe, including in nations in the Middle East.

"(Koreans') yearning for mutual happiness has fostered soft power just as strong as their economic might," he said, in a speech bookended by sporting performances of taekwondo as well as of traditional dance.

"Under a starlit desert sky this evening, a dazzling show of K-pop stars who charmed the entire world will come alive," Mr Moon told an audience of several hundred on a damp afternoon in Dubai.

Korean culture is riding high after the success of K-pop bands such as BTS, Oscar-winning film Parasite and TV show Squid Game, Netflix's most popular series launch.

The craze has not escaped the Gulf region, with BTS the most streamed artiste on Spotify last year in Saudi Arabia, usually seen as a bastion of Islamic conservatism.

Mr Moon's UAE schedule includes meetings with Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan.

He was expected to discuss cooperation in the hydrogen industry, a growing sector for the post-fossil fuels era, and collaboration in defence, infrastructure and climate change, according to South Korean news agency Yonhap.

On Tuesday, Mr Moon will meet Saudi Arabia's de facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh, as well as Mr Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the head of oil giant Aramco and the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, Yonhap said.

He is expected to announce the resumption of Gulf free-trade talks after meeting Gulf Cooperation Council leader Nayef Falah M. Al-Hajraf on Wednesday before discussions with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo on Thursday, the agency added.

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