Korea and ASEAN together for the vision of people-centered community of peace and prosperity
|TIN LIÊN QUAN
|Building a closer community with a shared future between China and ASEAN
|Together for a cohesive and responsive ASEAN Community
|The ASEAN-ROK Commemorative Summit in 2019 marked the new beginning of ROK’s cooperation with ASEAN.
The Republic of Korea (hereinafter referred to as ROK) has conventionally attached great importance to its foreign relations with major four powers (the U.S., China, Japan and Russia) surrounding the Korean Peninsula because diplomacy with these countries has been directly related to its survival as a nation and security of its people. ROK’s economic and trade relations have also been heavily dependent on major economies and its trade dependence on the US and China has even grown to surpass 35% in 2018.
However, ROK has tried to strategically diversify its diplomatic and economic ties with its partners for the past several years amid growing uncertainty over the global economy and intensifying Sino-US strategic rivalry. ASEAN is definitely the most significant and essential target region of diversification together with India.
ASEAN - ROK's priority partner
ASEAN with its 640 million population and 2.9 trillion USD of GDP is one of the largest consumer markets in the world growing at 15% annually. It is also one of the youngest and most dynamic regions with average population age at around 30 years old and an average annual growth rate at around 5%. With this ever-growing economic and strategic importance, ASEAN is increasing its diplomatic influence in the international community on the basis of the united voices of its 10 member states. Major power including the U.S., China and Japan are also competitively stepping up their diplomatic efforts to strengthen ties with ASEAN.
Against this backdrop, the Korean government proclaimed that it would strongly push forward its “New Southern Policy (hereinafter referred to as NSP)” with the vision of “People-centered community of Peace and Prosperity” when President Moon Jae-in visited Indonesia in November 2017 and since then has exerted tremendous effort to dramatically improve its cooperative ties with ASEAN.
The NSP is aimed at realizing mutual prosperity and peace not only on the Korean Peninsula but also in East Asia as a whole. To this end, the policy seeks to elevate ROK’s relations with ASEAN member states in the political, economic, social and cultural spheres, among others, to the same level ROK maintains with the four major powers. By pursuing this policy objective, ROK wishes to be firmly established as a credible and lasting partner of ASEAN.
President Moon has already visited all 10 ASEAN member states including Vietnam since the introduction of the NSP and laid a solid foundation for successful implementation of the policy and continuous strengthening of cooperation. Also, the number of people traveling between ROK and the NSP target countries increased by about 10% annually and exceeded 11 million in 2019 for the first time in history. Korea-ASEAN bilateral trade volume surpassed 160 billion USD in 2018 with ASEAN as a whole becoming ROK’s second-largest trading partner, after only China.
ASEAN is no longer secondary in ROK’s foreign relations but regarded as its priority partner on a par with the major powers. This resolution of the Korean government was well embodied in the ASEAN-ROK Commemorative Summit held in Busan in November 2019 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of ASEAN-ROK dialogue partnership.
This meeting served as a good diplomatic occasion to review the development of ASEAN-ROK partnership over the past 30 years and present the shared vision for the next 30 years by adopting ASEAN-ROK Joint Vision Statement for Peace, Prosperity and Partnership. This Joint Vision Statement will be a solid foundation for the future direction of ROK’s foreign policy toward ASEAN.
First, both sides agreed to improve systems and frameworks for more people-to-people and cultural exchanges. This will be implemented through an improved visa system, expanded Working Holiday Programs and enhanced cooperation between ASEAN Cultural Center in Bangkok and ASEAN Culture House in Busan. They also agreed to increase cooperation in human resources development. The Korean government pledged to double scholarship opportunities for ASEAN students to study in ROK and to enhance Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) programs.
Second, both sides agreed to strengthen their cooperation for mutual prosperity by expanding FTA networks, increasing cooperation in addressing the 4th Industrial Revolution challenges, initiating ASEAN-ROK Startups Partnership and stepping up ROK’s participation in ASEAN’s infrastructure projects including Smart Cities. The Korea government also pledged to double up its grant aid to ASEAN by 2022 and increase annual contribution to the ASEAN-ROK Cooperation Fund and to the Mekong-ROK Cooperation Fund in light of increasing financial resources for cooperation.
Third, both sides agreed to work together for promoting peace in the Korean Peninsula. ASEAN welcomed the Korean government’s commitment to 3 Principles of Korean Peninsula Peace Process (zero tolerance for war, mutual security guarantee, co-prosperity) and its vision for international peace zone. They also agreed to increase their cooperation in addressing non-traditional threats such as transnational crimes, disaster management and peaceful and safe uses of nuclear energy.
The ASEAN-ROK Commemorative Summit in 2019 marked the new beginning of ROK’s cooperation with ASEAN and this will be materialized through the second phase of New Southern Policy. The Korean government is now comprehensively reviewing outcomes and limits of the first phase of NSP of the past three years and is working strenuously to establish the second phase of NSP, which will be the basis of policy direction for the next five years from 2021.
The vision of “People-centered community of Peace and Prosperity” will continue to be the core element of the policy. However, the second phase of NSP will be fine-tuning its policy goals and strategies in order to improve efficiency and consistency of policy framework. Also, it will further crystallize its policy direction toward a way of maximizing ROK’s strong points and enhancing the strategy of choice and concentration in allocating resources so that it can overcome relatively limited volume of resources.
The second phase of NSP will take into consideration the changes in policy environment such as the recent COVID-19 outbreak and resulting disruption of Global Value Chains in the region. In that sense, cooperation in the field of public health is expected to be a new core agenda item of the policy framework.
Highest expectation for Vietnam's ASEAN chairmanship
The year 2020 will be even more important to Vietnam because this year marks the 25th anniversary of Vietnam’s ASEAN membership and Vietnam assumed the ASEAN chairmanship at this critical juncture for building of a harmonious, resilient, innovative, cohesive, responsible and adaptive ASEAN community.
The Korean government has the highest expectation that Vietnam will carry out the role of ASEAN chairmanship proactively and constructively throughout this year with the overarching theme of “Cohesive and Responsive” ASEAN and contribute greatly to realizing the vision of a stronger and more cohesive ASEAN Community by 2025. The Korean government, as the coordinating country of the APT (ASEAN Plus Three) mechanism this year, will spare no effort to provide cooperation and assistance to Vietnam so that it could hold successfully ASEAN related meetings including the 37th ASEAN Summit and Related Summits.
Regrettably, the international community is now faced with the unprecedented and severe public health and economic challenges posed by the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic and repercussions on ASEAN meetings this year seem inevitable. Nevertheless, Vietnam has so far successfully dealt with the critical situation and is expected to playing an excellent role in leading cooperation and solidarity of ASEAN needed to overcome the crisis.
The Special ASEAN Plus Three Summit on the COVID-19 held via video conference on April 14, 2020, was a timely and bold action by Vietnam to rally political commitments of leaders in the region to cope with the crisis. The Joint Statement of this meeting has laid a solid foundation for important collective measures such as the establishment of COVID-19 ASEAN Response Fund and essential medical supplies warehouses.
I feel very proud of the fact that Vietnam and ROK had joint initiatives to organize this meeting and the Korean Embassy in Ha Noi had close cooperation with the Vietnamese government during the preparation process of this meeting. I am willing to have continued cooperation with the Vietnamese government for the smooth implementation of the significant commitments and agreements made at this meeting.
Vietnam and ROK have successfully coped with the crisis of COVID-19 thanks to their excellent epidemic prevention capacity and dedicated efforts of their people and are being praised by the world as model cases in fighting against COVID-19. Therefore, I think it is high time for the two countries to begin to explore ways to normalize their people-to-people exchange to be well prepared for the post-COVID-19 “New Normal”. I sincerely hope that the two countries could establish a successful framework of normalizing their ties and extend it also to the entire ASEAN-ROK relations as an exemplary model.
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