Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Revisiting ASEAN-Korea relations on the 54th ASEAN Day

Revisiting ASEAN-Korea relations on the 54th ASEAN Day

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
South Korean President Moon Jae-in claps as his trade minister Yoo Myung-hee holds up the signed agreement, as seen on a TV monitor, during the signing ceremony for the RCEP trade pact at the ASEAN summit that is being held online in Hanoi on November 15 last year. AFP

Revisiting ASEAN-Korea relations on the 54th ASEAN Day

August 8 marked the 54th ASEAN Day. For more than half a century, ASEAN member states have promoted multilateral dialogue and cooperation. Embracing globalisation, many countries in the region have enjoyed explosive economic growth to collectively emerge as the fifth largest economy in the world.

Unfortunately, since the global financial crisis of 2008, globalisation has slowly lost traction. The onset of Covid-19 has further amplified this trend by providing new rationale for protectionism. Moreover, the recent new waves of Covid-19 and the slow vaccine rollout have delayed much-anticipated economic recovery in Southeast Asia.

Against this backdrop, ASEAN-Korea relations have become all the more important in upholding free and open trade and creating interconnectedness at multiple levels, which are crucial to the region’s sustained development and prosperity. Thankfully, despite the many uncertainties and challenges, the prospects for stronger cooperation and deeper ties between ASEAN and Korea are bright.

First, strong commitment to cooperation continues to serve as a key driver in strengthening the ASEAN-Korea partnership. Over the past three decades, ASEAN and Korea have evolved into mutually indispensable economic partners. Today, ASEAN is Korea’s second-largest trading partner and investment destination. As a matter of fact, strong trade relations led to a mere five per cent drop in trade volume to record $144 billion in 2020, even at the height of the pandemic.

Second, ASEAN and Korea are like-minded in their outward-looking policies, which provides a solid foundation for sustained cooperation. Korea and many Southeast Asian countries experienced rapid economic growth based on export-oriented policies supported by economic reform. Open-minded and willing to learn from others, the two regions are well poised to work together, not only in building back better but also in advancing innovation and future technologies towards the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) economy.

Third, ASEAN and Korea share a common philosophy that values people. Both the ASEAN Community and the New Southern Policy prioritise the region’s peoples in their community-building efforts. This emphasis on the people has allowed greater interaction and communication among the two regions’ grassroots – from academics, businessmen and journalists to students, artists and the general public – which will enable deeper mutual understanding and more inclusive and multifaceted dialogue.

Despite the many positive aspects of ASEAN-Korea relations, however, challenges remain.

The foremost challenge is the existing asymmetries between ASEAN and Korea. Over the years, many ASEAN member states have expressed concern about the increasing trade imbalance with Korea. Increased efforts should be made to promote more balanced expansion of trade.

Asymmetry is also observed in social and cultural exchanges. The long-held popularity of Korean pop culture in ASEAN has contributed greatly to promoting a positive image of Korea among young Southeast Asians. In a way, the Korean Wave has inspired many ASEAN youths to explore their future in Korea, and there are over 64,000 Southeast Asian students currently studying in Korean universities.

However, the number of Korean students coming to Southeast Asia for the sole purpose of pursuing their studies remains quite small. While ASEAN is the most preferred tourist destination for Koreans, more efforts need to be made to set off an “ASEAN wave” – that is, to promote greater interest and broader understanding of ASEAN and Southeast Asian culture in Korea.

Finally, Korea needs to substantially strengthen its strategic partnership with ASEAN in dealing with regional and global affairs. While ASEAN and Korea today enjoy a very close relationship, recent survey results published by the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore show that Korea falls short of being an influential partner to ASEAN. Increased cooperation on matters of global concern, such as the pandemic and climate change, and greater convergence on the strategic front will provide the ASEAN-Korea partnership with a stronger foundation and relevance in regional affairs.

Back in 2009, the ASEAN-Korea Centre was established to reinforce economic and sociocultural cooperation between the 10 ASEAN member countries and Korea. Over the years, the center has made various efforts to address and improve the asymmetries in ASEAN-Korea relations.

And as ASEAN and Korea shake off the effects of the pandemic and advance together towards a more prosperous future, the ASEAN-Korea Centre will make added efforts to strengthen this partnership so it is more balanced and mutually beneficial, based on shared perceptions and understanding.

Kim Hae-yong is secretary-general of the ASEAN-Korea Centre


  • Hun Sen: Full country reopening to be decided in two weeks

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has announced that if the Covid-19 situation remains stable for 15 consecutive days from the end of the October 5-7 Pchum Ben public holiday, Cambodia will reopen fully, albeit in the context of Covid-19 whereby people have to adjust their lives to

  • Cambodia sets new Covid-19 quarantine rules

    The government has modified Covid-19 quarantine requirements, shortening the duration for, among others, Cambodian officials, foreign diplomats and delegations, investors and inbound travellers in general. According to an official notice signed by Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng late on October 16, quarantine length for Cambodian

  • Will Evergrande change the way Chinese developers do business in Cambodia?

    China’s property sector policy has exposed the grim financial condition of real estate developers including those operating in Cambodia, which raises questions over the viability of their projects and business going forward The dark blue netting draping over one of Yuetai Group Co Ltd’

  • Phnom Penh governor: Show Covid-19 vaccination cards, or else

    Phnom Penh municipal governor Khuong Sreng late on October 5 issued a directive requiring all people aged 18 and over and the parents of children aged 6-17 to produce Covid-19 vaccination cards when entering schools, markets, malls, marts, eateries and other business establishments that have been permitted

  • Cambodia seeks probe into 'false reports' on Hun Sen's alleged Cypriot passport

    Minister of Justice Koeut Rith on September 6 wrote a letter to his Cypriot counterpart Stephie Dracos requesting cooperation in investigating and providing the truth in relation to the "exaggerative and false allegations" that Prime Minister Hun Sen holds a Cypriot passport. In his letter, the

  • 'Pandora Papers' expose leaders' offshore millions

    More than a dozen heads of state and government, from Jordan to Azerbaijan, Kenya and the Czech Republic, have used offshore tax havens to hide assets worth hundreds of millions of dollars, according to a far-reaching new investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (