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Cooperation in critical technologies such as AI and semiconductors


Landmark commitments on AI, semiconductors, space and more form a key part of new UK-Republic of Korea Accord.

The UK’s partnership with fellow science leader, the Republic of Korea, are pushed to new heights with a series of science and tech deals recently signed by Secretary of State Michelle Donelan, Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy Bang Moon-kyu, and Minister of Science and ICT Lee Jong Ho.

These have been agreed as part of a new landmark Accord between the two countries, that is being announced this week as part of President Yoon Suk Yeol’s State Visit to the UK, which begins today. As two of the world’s most innovative economies, the UK and the Republic of Korea are natural partners, with both countries placing in the top five of the Global Innovation Index.

The two countries will work closer together than ever before to harness the potential of critical technologies like AI, quantum and semiconductors to create jobs and unlock economic growth, alongside a new £4.5 million fund to create joint research and innovation partnerships. This builds on the recent international progress on safe, responsible AI development achieved at the AI Safety Summit, the next edition of which will be co-hosted by the Republic of Korea and the UK next year.

New commitments to collaborate in space, and on digital tech, as well as an over-arching agreement on science and technology, will open up new opportunities for trade, innovation and investment in both countries – ultimately helping to grow the economy, one of the Prime Minister’s five priorities.

President Yoon, the Duchess of Edinburgh and the Science and Tech Secretary will attend the event marking the sci-tech deals’ signing, and hear from some of the brightest minds working on science and tech projects in the UK and the Republic of Korea, before Secretary of State Donelan formally signs the sci-tech agreements which form part of the new bilateral Accord. The UK and the Republic of Korea share a close relationship, and the Accord also deepens ties on defence, trade and investment.

Science, Innovation and Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan said: “The Republic of Korea is a tech powerhouse, and a vital partner to the UK.

“We share the same values and face the same challenges: from creating future jobs and industries fit for the AI age, to bringing the power of science to bear on climate change and supporting ageing populations. As part of the new Accord between our two countries, this raft of agreements will future-proof our relationship for decades to come: a partnership that is already bearing fruit as we work closely together on the next AI Safety Summit.”

The science and technology agreements being signed as part of the UK-Republic of Korea bilateral Accord are:

• A commitment to accelerate cooperation on the development of safe, responsible AI grounded in the UK and Republic of Korea’s shared democratic values, building on the commitments made at the world-first AI Safety Summit and Republic of Korea’s plans to co-host the next AI Safety Summit with the UK

• A new Framework for Semiconductor Cooperation to enhance our collaboration on skills, R&D, supply chain resilience and trade, and deepen industry links

• A broad new Digital Partnership, boosting joint work in priority areas such as data, telecoms, AI and digital competition

• A new Memorandum of Understanding on space cooperation, bringing our space industries closer together and paving the way to joint space endeavours

• A new Implementation Arrangement, which updates and reboots a Science & Tech cooperation agreement from 1985, to modernise the two countries’ science and tech partnerships for the 21st century

• A new dialogue on quantum, which will include talent exchanges

• A commitment to closer cooperation on engineering biology

As well as hosting tomorrow’s celebration of the UK and the Republic of Korea’s deep science and tech links, the Royal Society and the National Research Foundation of Korea are investing up to £4.5 million into the new UK-ROK International Collaboration Awards for emerging UK and Korean research leaders to develop collaborative partnerships. This is supported by the International Science Partnerships Fund, the UK’s global fund for research and innovation. Innovate UK will also invest over £8 million from the next financial year into innovation programmes with the Republic of Korea, driving the development and commercialisation of critical technologies, including for the first time - semiconductors.

The commitment to work together on AI follows the groundbreaking AI Safety Summit hosted by the UK at Bletchley Park, at which the Republic of Korea was one of 28 countries to agree ambitious commitments to work together on safe and responsible frontier AI development. The Republic of Korea and the UK will co-host the next AI Safety Summit in 2024.

Also on Wednesday, a new MoU signed between Innovate UK and the Korea Institute for Advancement of Technology will unlock closer collaboration between both countries’ industries and researchers in key areas such as semiconductors, which are essential to so many parts of modern life, from phones and computers, to cars and hospital equipment.

The commitment to closer ties on engineering biology will be bolstered by the establishment of a joint synthetic biology research centre. The centre will be shared by SynbiCITE, the UK’s Innovation and Knowledge Centre for synthetic biology, hosted at Imperial College London, and its South Korean equivalent the Korea Research Institute of Bioscience and Biotechnology (KRIBB), supported by KAIST, South Korea’s leading science and technology university.

Not only this, an agreement between the Milner Therapeutics Institute (MTI) at the University of Cambridge and the Korea Research Institute of Bioscience & Biotechnology (KRIBB) is being announced. This agreement paves the way for Cambridge to host KRIBB’s first European outpost, demonstrating the strength of UK engineering biology and life sciences. It brings together experts in cell and gene therapy, organoid screening and AI-enabled drug discovery, with joint projects eligible for funding from both countries.

Early discussions have also begun on a Cooperation Agreement to enhance the Republic of Korea’s cooperation in the Square Kilometre Array Observatory(SKAO), the multi-billion-pound international project to build the world’s largest radio telescope. The UK hosts the headquarters of the Observatory and is contributing £270m towards the project, which will transform our understanding of the Universe and physics. Having the Republic of Korea on board will open up opportunities to create even stronger links with the global science community.

This is the latest in a series of bilateral international science deals the UK has signed recently, which include partnerships with Israel, India, Switzerland and South Africa, as well as recent international digital deals such as the UK-Japan Digital Partnership.

These bilateral agreements, alongside Horizon association, demonstrate the UK’s global ambitions to deepen collaboration with leading lights in science right across the globe. The Government is determined to open up the broadest range of opportunities, for the brightest British minds to unlock breakthroughs with colleagues, the world over.

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