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South Korea’s Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha (centre) links hands with Asean foreign ministers and their representatives as they take part in the Asean-Republic of Korea Ministerial Meeting at the 50th Association of Southeast Asian Nations regional security forum in suburban Manila on August 6.
South Korea’s Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha (centre) links hands with Asean foreign ministers and their representatives as they take part in the Asean-Republic of Korea Ministerial Meeting at the 50th Association of Southeast Asian Nations regional security forum in suburban Manila on August 6. Noel Celis/AFP

Asean and South Korea, sharing a common destiny

More than 2 million South Koreans left the country for overseas travel during the long South Korean Thanksgiving holidays early this October, according to numbers released by the Incheon International Airport. So where did these people go?

In fact, the number-one travel destination for the South Korean people was once again, Asean. About 520,000 people travelled to Asean, a 26.2 percent increase compared with last year’s Thanksgiving holidays. To South Korea, Asean is a very close partner and neighbour, and the two sides have close cooperation and exchange in a variety of areas.

Asean and South Korea became dialogue partners in 1989. From then until today, for nearly three decades, there has been remarkable development in this partnership, with significant milestones achieved. Asean is now South Korea’s second-largest trading partner and destination for investment.

South Korea is Asean’s fifth-largest trading and investment partner. While the trade volume between the two sides in 1989 was $8.2 billion, in 2016 it recorded $119 billion, a 15-fold increase. Also, South Korea’s investment to Asean increased from $92 million in 1989 to $5.1 billion in 2016, a 55-fold increase. To note, South Korea’s investment in Asean surpassed that in China, by more than two times this year. In this regard, Asean-South Korea relations serves as a model for a fast-developing and fast-evolving partnership.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, soon after his inauguration, recognised the importance of South Korea’s partnership with Asean. Such acknowledgement will serve as a critical foundation for another level of development for Asean-South Korea relations. In mid-November, Moon will be visiting Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines for the APEC and Asean summits. On this occasion, we look forward to having Moon shed light on South Korea’s vision and strategy towards Asean, as well as a more concrete action plan to further enhance relations. Here, to note, the partnership between Asean and South Korea over the decades has become one where they not only need each other, but also want each other. To continue this path, the two sides should not seek immediate benefits, but develop a genuine and long-lasting partnership that will last for hundreds of years.

It is certain that there will be a brighter future for Asean-South Korea relations, and the following points outline how the Asean-South Korea partnership is actually more than what we know or anticipate. First of all, middle powers in the region that do not have hegemonic intentions, such as Asean and South Korea, should work together to forge a genuine partnership. Together, they will be able to play a stabilising role and contribute to regional co-prosperity. This is particularly the case in the Asia-Pacific, where much of the uncertainty in the region is one way or another related to the rivalry among major powers.

Secondly, it is noteworthy that Asean and South Korea have complementary economies. Many South Korean companies, both large conglomerates and small- and medium-size enterprises, have entered Asean member states, contributing to the establishment of mutually beneficial economic relations between Asean and South Korea. One example is Samsung in Vietnam, where the former contributes to more than 20 percent of the country’s GDP and exports.

Another example is the shipping industry in the Philippines, where partnership with South Korea has helped the country’s shipping industry to become number four in the world. Furthermore, the Krakatau-POSCO, jointly established by the South Korean company POSCO and Indonesia’s Krakatu Steel, is an exemplary case of cooperation in the steel industry. Like this, South Korean companies working with partners in Asean member states results in win-win outcomes including economic development, technological cooperation, job creation and human resource development.

Third, South Korea can assist and take part in Asean’s community-building efforts. While the Asean Community was launched at the end of 2015, it continues to be a work in progress. One way to contribute is to strengthen the business links between Asean and South Korea, through establishing and strengthening global value chains and global supply chains. This will also help Asean micro-, small- and midsize enterprises to prosper, which are the backbone of the Asean economy. Furthermore, South Korea is the optimal partner for the development of Asean’s digital economy.

Fourth, South Korea can share with Asean its experience of achieving democracy and a market economy. With its success case of becoming a donor country from an aid-receiving country, South Korea is active in sharing its development strategy and experience with its neighbours. To note, many Asean member states are South Korea’s priority partner countries for Official Development Assistance.

Fifth, there are many cultures and values that the peoples of Asean and South Korea share. Experts say that the similar values such as filial piety and family-oriented traditions are some of the essential elements that allow South Korean dramas to become widely accepted in Southeast Asia. Furthermore, as much as South Korean food is becoming well-known in Asean, the cuisines of Asean are also very popular in South Korea.

The South Korean government acknowledges that people-to-people exchange and mutual understanding creates a sound foundation for a solid partnership. South Korea places great importance on enhancing two-way cooperation and exchange, one good example being South Korea’s initiative to open the Asean Culture House in Busan in August this year.

Last but not least, South Korean communities in Asean member states are becoming more and more vibrant, while the Asean community in South Korea is also increasingly becoming bigger and more active. The people of Asean have already become members of the South Korean society through their work, studies, family, and so on. Our peoples work together, live together and work to prosper together.

Asean-South Korea relations should take another step from just seeking benefits from each other, towards sharing a common destiny. Such efforts are still a progress in the making, but this is the future of Asean-South Korea partnership.

Asean and South Korea need to acknowledge the fact that they have a common destiny. It’s time that the two sides take another leap in their journey together towards its shared goals. It is certain that this will not only contribute to the development of Asean and South Korea, but also to the stability and prosperity of the whole region.

Kim Young-sun is the secretary-general of the Asean-Korea Center, a Seoul-based intergovernmental organisation that promotes economic ties and sociocultural cooperation between Asean member states and South Korea.

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