On November 9, the Mission of the Republic of Korea to ASEAN celebrated ASEAN-Korea Day to commemorate the establishment of dialogue relations between ASEAN and Korea in November 1989.

As part of the celebration, the Korean government donated “Mirror Man”, a Korean contemporary sculpture, to the ASEAN Secretariat.

“Mirror Man” depicts two human beings who are interacting with each other through a square frame, which is, in fact, a mirror. Two separate humans signify two different cultures and worldviews.

On a different but related note, “Mirror Man” is also a token of celebration symbolising the ASEAN-Korea partnership, which started more than 30 years ago. Likewise, “Mirror Man” signifies the spirit of solidarity and cooperation between ASEAN member states and dialogue partners as well.

In line with such a symbolic message as signified by “Mirror Man”, ASEAN-Korea relations have dramatically developed, especially since President Moon Jae-in declared the New Southern Policy (NSP) in Jakarta four years ago.

Last year alone, despite various hurdles created by Covid-19, trade between ASEAN and Korea was recorded at around $144 billion, similar to the pre-pandemic level. Korea has now emerged as ASEAN’s fourth largest trading partner while ASEAN has become Korea’s second largest counterpart. It is also expected that people-to-people exchanges between ASEAN and Korea will recover soon with the recent reopening of popular destinations for Korean tourists such as Bali.

Over the past year and a half in particular, Korea has made great efforts in tackling the pandemic together with ASEAN. The NSP Plus, which is the upgraded version of the New Southern Policy, has specified public health as one of the key areas for further cooperation between ASEAN and Korea.

In this spirit, Korea has made a contribution of $5 million to the Covid-19 ASEAN Response Fund this year, in addition to $1 million last year. Korea also provided Myanmar with humanitarian assistance of $3 million, including $1 million through ASEAN, to help overcome its socioeconomic difficulties.

These contributions as well as Korea’s strong commitment to cementing its partnership with ASEAN through NSP Plus have been appreciated by ASEAN member states. As a result, the “Joint Statement on Advancing ASEAN-Republic of Korea Cooperation for People-centered Community of Peace and Prosperity” was adopted at the 22nd ASEAN-Korea Summit held last month.

Through this joint statement, the leaders noted with appreciation the positive development and achievements of ASEAN-Korea relations. They also reaffirmed their commitment to enhancing the ASEAN-Korea Strategic Partnership in the three main pillars of Korea’s NSP: People, Prosperity and Peace. More specifically, they agreed to advance practical cooperation and synergies among the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework, the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific and the NSP Plus.

At this summit, President Moon presented the following three directions for the strengthening of the ASEAN-Korea partnership in the coming years.

First and foremost, “People” should always be placed at the centre of the ASEAN-Korea cooperation. More specifically, President Moon proposed the “ASEAN-Korea Initiative for Public Health and Vaccines” especially for the purpose of expanding production capacity for vaccines and treatments as well as their equitable distribution.

The ASEAN-Korea Health Ministers’ Meeting to be launched early next year will serve as a platform for concrete discussions on how to materialise this initiative with a view to strengthening public health systems in ASEAN.

Second, mutually beneficial economic relations should continue to be established for the “Prosperity” of ASEAN and Korea. Most recently, the Cambodia-Korea Free Trade Agreement (FTA) was signed, and the Philippines-Korea FTA was also concluded. Together with the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) which will come into force on January 1 next year, these agreements will contribute to promoting economic exchanges between ASEAN and Korea.

In addition, it is essential for both ASEAN and Korea to prepare together for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The ASEAN-Korea Start-up Policy Roadmap, which will be finalised this year, will provide momentum to reinforce our cooperation for the future.

ASEAN and Korea will also promote, without delay, the institutionalisation of cooperation through the establishment of the ASEAN-Korea Industrial Innovation Centre, the ASEAN-Korea Science and Technology Cooperation Centre and the ASEAN-Korea Standardisation Joint Research Centre, as agreed at the ASEAN-Korea Commemorative Summit in 2019.

The ASEAN-Korea Financial Cooperation Centre has been already established here in Jakarta at our Mission. The centre aims to lay the grounds for financial cooperation between ASEAN and Korea in the spirit of mutual benefit. For instance, it will explore ways to cooperate with ASEAN countries for the improvement of their financial infrastructure, such as payment and settlement systems and deposit insurance, to name but a few.

Finally, in the area of “Peace”, ASEAN and Korea need to collectively respond to transnational crimes, such as cybercrimes, as well as climate change and disaster management. The ASEAN-Korea Dialogue on Environment and Climate Change launched this year will serve as a platform for the strengthening of our joint efforts to address the climate crisis. The ASEAN-Korea Ministerial Meeting on Disaster Management to be established next year will also serve as an important channel for charting out a common strategy to deal with various natural disasters.

There is a Korean proverb, which says, “Ten years’ time will change rivers and mountains.” To put it in another way, it will need long years of consistent efforts, maybe at least 10 years, to make a momentous change. It is exactly in the spirit of this proverb that Korea will continue to make strenuous efforts to further upgrade the ASEAN-Korea partnership in the years to come.

Lim Sungnam is South Korean ambassador to ASEAN