Celebrating Korea’s ties with Asean
(Editor’s Note: This article is the author’s contribution written for members of the Asia News Network, arranged by the Korea Herald for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean)-Republic of Korea (ROK) Commemorative Summit and the 1st Mekong-Republic of Korea Summit scheduled for Nov. 25 to 27 in Busan.)
Next week, Nov. 25 to 27, the 2019 Asean-Republic of Korea Commemorative Summit and the 1st Mekong-Republic of Korea Summit will be held in Korea. In particular, since my hometown Busan will play host to the events, I am very much looking forward to them—it’s as if I have invited valued guests to my home. I send early greetings in a warm welcome to the heads of state and government as well as to the secretary general of Asean.
The Republic of Korea was Asean’s first dialogue partner to establish an Asean Culture House. Koreans love Asean so much that the National Asean Recreation Forest was created, complete with cabins modeled after the various traditional housing styles of the 10 Asean member states. After I took office, I sent a special envoy to Asean out of profound interest in and affection for the region. I have also visited all 10 Asean member states within a little over two years of my inauguration, becoming the first Korean President to do so. Asean’s dynamism and the smiles of its people are still fresh in my memory.
The people of Asean live in harmony with a diversity of ethnicities, religions and cultures knitted into their everyday lives. The Korean people feel very close to Asean because Asean and Korea bear a resemblance to each other in prizing decorum and communities. We share the values of Asia. Asean is special to Koreans because the region ensures equal participation and opportunities through the “Asean Way” despite different economic statuses and political systems among its 10 member states. Asean’s growth through an inclusiveness that does not exclude nature, any person or nation will indeed be the future of the global community.
Era of transition
The year 1989 when Asean and Korea established Dialogue Relations was a tumultuous period. The ideological confrontation that had persisted over decades since the start of the Cold War began to dissipate. Rapid technological developments helped draw countries around the world even closer than before, leaving them easily affected by one another. In that era of transition, Asean and Korea became friends. Over three decades since then, we’ve steadily built our friendship while jointly responding to the new times and corresponding changes. In 2018, the number of visitors traveling between Korea and Asean surpassed 11 million and bilateral trade reached the all-time high of US$160 billion.
The world now faces new challenges such as protectionism and the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Nonconventional security threats, including natural disasters, transnational crimes and cybercrime, rise with each passing day. Building on 30 years of cooperation, we need to jointly respond to these challenges and put forth a new future vision. The Asean-ROK Commemorative Summit will serve as a venue for both sides to put our heads together to seek ways for a more prosperous and peaceful future under the banner of “Partnership for Peace, Prosperity for People.”
Asean is the world’s youngest and most dynamic economic community. To transform its infinite potential into sustainable prosperity, it is crucial to increase connectivity in the region and cooperate in high-tech industries. If we enhance cooperation in transport infrastructure, smart cities and advanced science and technology—Korea’s strengths—we could jointly nurture innovative capabilities to respond to the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Using free trade to expand commerce, fostering small and medium-sized enterprises for an inclusive economy and promoting green growth, such as an ecofriendly bio-industry—these are also areas where Korea and Asean can work together.
I ask you to pay special attention to the inaugural Mekong-ROK Summit. The Mekong countries are achieving high annual growth of more than 6 percent while pursuing sustainable development, through which people can live in harmony with nature. They are also ushering in a new future for the global community through the Asian spirit defined by sharing and mutual respect.
In the belief that the Mekong countries’ development will translate into Korea’s as well, I have unveiled the Republic of Korea-Mekong Vision. Korea will help promote connectivity among Mekong countries by supporting infrastructure construction, including roads, bridges, railroads and ports, and will join forces to promote regional progress. Mekong countries’ pride and potential are embodied by Angkor Wat, Bagan and Vat Phou. The spirit of Korea’s Saemaul Undong—expressed in the phrase “We can do it, too”—will inspire confidence in the region’s farming villages and help usher in a “future of common prosperity.”
Considering the growth potential and geopolitical importance of Asean, many countries are announcing regional cooperation initiatives to strengthen partnerships with Asean. The Asean Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, which Asean member states agreed to in June, is a great vision that can contribute to regional peace and prosperity. The principles of cooperation proposed by Asean, including Asean centrality, openness, transparency, inclusivity and respect for international law, are in line with Korea’s New Southern Policy. As a responsible nation in the region, Korea will further expand regional cooperation with Asean, holding up mutual benefit as the most important value.
People are the starting point for the development of all relations. To strengthen cooperation, we need to understand each other better. To make mutual visits less constrained, the rules related to people-to-people exchanges will be improved, for instance, by streamlining visa issuance procedures and introducing a policy of open skies. Drawing on Korea’s experience of achieving growth through the nurturing of talented individuals, we will provide support to help Asean’s future generations grow in all sectors to reduce development gaps within Asean.
Asean’s basic principle—consensus through dialogue and consultation—provides many lessons for Korea in particular. The two North Korea-United States summits held in Asean member states helped restart dialogue over peace on the Korean Peninsula. The Asean Regional Forum, in which North Korea participates, also contributes to peace on the Peninsula.
There still remain critical junctures for peace on the Korean Peninsula. Since peace on the Peninsula is closely related to stability throughout East Asia, I believe Asean member states that have actively helped advance peace through dialogue and mutual understanding over the past decades will also join in the journey toward establishing permanent peace on the Peninsula as reliable friends and advisers. I am looking forward to in-depth discussions about peace on the Peninsula and in East Asia taking place at the upcoming summits as well.
Busan, which will host the Asean-ROK Commemorative Summit and the 1st Mekong-ROK Summit and is Korea’s largest port city, is the gateway from which sea routes to Asean start. I look forward to Korea and Asean’s wisdom to achieve common prosperity and peace coming together in Busan, a city that connects the continent and ocean. I hope that the interest and support of Asean citizens will also stretch across the sea to reach Busan.
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