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ASEAN, a key partner for Korea's future

By Suh Chung Ha
Suh Chung Ha
Suh Chung Ha

Singapore is set to host a summit June 12 between President Donald Trump and Chairman Kim Jong-un, the first-ever meeting between a sitting American president and a leader of North Korea.

The decision to hold what could be one of the most significant meetings in Korean history in Singapore is a testament to the remarkable diplomatic significance of the "little red dot."

Already renowned as one of the world's leading trading and financial hubs, the tiny city state can now add another service to its distinguished portfolio: diplomatic host.

Singapore's skillful balancing among the region's major powers has helped promote its security and prosperity, not to mention its reputation as a leading player in the regional diplomacy and made it an acceptable host for both the United States and North Korea.

As hope grows that North Korea might open up and reform its economy in a new era of peace on the Korean Peninsula, the example of Vietnam has also received growing South Korean interest.

Vietnam's decision to pursue its "Doi Moi" policy of economic reforms in the late 1980s successfully helped the country emerge as one of Asia's fastest-growing economies in recent years. Indeed, Kim is reported to have expressed his interest in the Vietnamese model.

South Korea has been one of Vietnam's key partners in supporting its economic development through investment and also one of its biggest beneficiaries.

Today, South Korea is Vietnam's second-largest trading partner while Vietnam is South Korea's fourth-largest.

The South Korea-Vietnam relationship is one of Asia's great success stories: two former Cold War adversaries who overcame their past enmity to forge a peaceful and prosperous partnership. This story holds many lessons as we closely watch North Korea's next steps.

In addition to Singapore and Vietnam, key members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), including Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, also have many insights to share for Korea's future and their unfulfilled potential.

One important insight has been these countries' underappreciated collective significance through the ASEAN grouping.
In the wake of Chinese economic retaliation following South Korea's deployment of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, South Korea has increasingly recognized the need to diversify its partnerships. ASEAN has been the main focus of this policy re-orientation.

In recognition of ASEAN's significance, President Moon Jae-in announced his New Southern Policy in November 2017 during a visit to Jakarta, Indonesia.

The New Southern Policy aims to pursue mutually beneficial cooperation and elevate relations with ASEAN on par with Korea's traditional great power neighbors.

It is often forgotten that ASEAN as a grouping is South Korea's second-largest trading partner and investment destination with a consumer market of over 600 million people.

South Korean popular culture, known as hallyu, has received perhaps its most enthusiastic reception in Southeast Asia. Every year, millions of tourists, students and workers travel between the two sides strengthening people-to-people ties.

Furthermore, the Fourth Industrial Revolution will present even more opportunities for exchanges, cooperation and interaction between South Korea and ASEAN.

For example, South Korea can learn a lot from Singapore's technological achievements in smart homes, autonomous vehicles and medical solutions using robotic technology.

Intergovernmental and private sector cooperation in emerging industries such as e-commerce, e-finance, smart cities, smart agriculture and a shared economy are all untapped opportunities.

Despite all of this, South Korean public awareness of ASEAN's significance continues to lag far behind reality.

A recent survey by the ASEAN-Korea Centre found that most young South Koreans see ASEAN primarily as a tourist destination, but also unfortunately associate it with negative terms such as "poverty" and "backwardness."

This suggests there is much work to be done in changing South Korean attitudes towards Southeast Asia from the current superficial stereotypes if we are to realize the relationship's full potential.

ASEAN, and Southeast Asia more broadly, is not only an emerging economic giant that will be central to Korea's ongoing prosperity, it is a diverse region full of rich experiences that South Koreans can learn much from.

The relationship has come far, but it has much farther to go.

At the 13th Jeju Forum, which starts June 26, senior officials, scholars and journalists from South Korea and ASEAN will come together to discuss ways to strengthen South Korea-ASEAN cooperation.

I hope the Jeju Forum will enhance South Koreans' understanding about ASEAN and contribute to the success of the New Southern Policy.

The writer is president of the Jeju Peace Institute and former Korean Ambassador to Singapore.


By Suh Chung Ha
Suh Chung Ha
Suh Chung Ha

Singapore is set to host a summit June 12 between President Donald Trump and Chairman Kim Jong-un, the first-ever meeting between a sitting American president and a leader of North Korea.

The decision to hold what could be one of the most significant meetings in Korean history in Singapore is a testament to the remarkable diplomatic significance of the "little red dot."

Already renowned as one of the world's leading trading and financial hubs, the tiny city state can now add another service to its distinguished portfolio: diplomatic host.

Singapore's skillful balancing among the region's major powers has helped promote its security and prosperity, not to mention its reputation as a leading player in the regional diplomacy and made it an acceptable host for both the United States and North Korea.

As hope grows that North Korea might open up and reform its economy in a new era of peace on the Korean Peninsula, the example of Vietnam has also received growing South Korean interest.

Vietnam's decision to pursue its "Doi Moi" policy of economic reforms in the late 1980s successfully helped the country emerge as one of Asia's fastest-growing economies in recent years. Indeed, Kim is reported to have expressed his interest in the Vietnamese model.

South Korea has been one of Vietnam's key partners in supporting its economic development through investment and also one of its biggest beneficiaries.

Today, South Korea is Vietnam's second-largest trading partner while Vietnam is South Korea's fourth-largest.

The South Korea-Vietnam relationship is one of Asia's great success stories: two former Cold War adversaries who overcame their past enmity to forge a peaceful and prosperous partnership. This story holds many lessons as we closely watch North Korea's next steps.

In addition to Singapore and Vietnam, key members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), including Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, also have many insights to share for Korea's future and their unfulfilled potential.

One important insight has been these countries' underappreciated collective significance through the ASEAN grouping.
In the wake of Chinese economic retaliation following South Korea's deployment of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, South Korea has increasingly recognized the need to diversify its partnerships. ASEAN has been the main focus of this policy re-orientation.

In recognition of ASEAN's significance, President Moon Jae-in announced his New Southern Policy in November 2017 during a visit to Jakarta, Indonesia.

The New Southern Policy aims to pursue mutually beneficial cooperation and elevate relations with ASEAN on par with Korea's traditional great power neighbors.

It is often forgotten that ASEAN as a grouping is South Korea's second-largest trading partner and investment destination with a consumer market of over 600 million people.

South Korean popular culture, known as hallyu, has received perhaps its most enthusiastic reception in Southeast Asia. Every year, millions of tourists, students and workers travel between the two sides strengthening people-to-people ties.

Furthermore, the Fourth Industrial Revolution will present even more opportunities for exchanges, cooperation and interaction between South Korea and ASEAN.

For example, South Korea can learn a lot from Singapore's technological achievements in smart homes, autonomous vehicles and medical solutions using robotic technology.

Intergovernmental and private sector cooperation in emerging industries such as e-commerce, e-finance, smart cities, smart agriculture and a shared economy are all untapped opportunities.

Despite all of this, South Korean public awareness of ASEAN's significance continues to lag far behind reality.

A recent survey by the ASEAN-Korea Centre found that most young South Koreans see ASEAN primarily as a tourist destination, but also unfortunately associate it with negative terms such as "poverty" and "backwardness."

This suggests there is much work to be done in changing South Korean attitudes towards Southeast Asia from the current superficial stereotypes if we are to realize the relationship's full potential.

ASEAN, and Southeast Asia more broadly, is not only an emerging economic giant that will be central to Korea's ongoing prosperity, it is a diverse region full of rich experiences that South Koreans can learn much from.

The relationship has come far, but it has much farther to go.

At the 13th Jeju Forum, which starts June 26, senior officials, scholars and journalists from South Korea and ASEAN will come together to discuss ways to strengthen South Korea-ASEAN cooperation.

I hope the Jeju Forum will enhance South Koreans' understanding about ASEAN and contribute to the success of the New Southern Policy.

The writer is president of the Jeju Peace Institute and former Korean Ambassador to Singapore.


Kim Jae-kyoung kjk@koreatimes.co.kr


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