Two years ago, South Korean President Moon Jae-in unveiled the New Southern Policy here in Jakarta on the occasion of his state visit to Indonesia. The policy aims to elevate the relationship with ASEAN in every aspect to unprecedentedly higher levels. Since then, the steps of the Republic of Korea’s government, spearheaded by President Moon, remind me of the Indonesian proverb, Berjalan sampai ke batas, berlayar sampai ke pulau (Walk to the border, sail to the island). In other words, Korea has made every effort to realize the New Southern Policy uninterruptedly and will continue to do so in the years to come.
Diplomatically, President Moon has kept his promise that he would visit all ASEAN member states during his tenure by visiting Indonesia and the Philippines in November 2017, Vietnam in March 2018, Singapore in July 2018, Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia and Cambodia in March 2019 and Thailand, Myanmar and Laos in September 2019. Institutionally, the Korean government has established the Presidential Committee on the New Southern Policy for policy recommendation and coordination, and the ASEAN Bureau was created within Korea’s Foreign Affairs Ministry for the first time in its history.
The Korean Mission to ASEAN has also tripled in size, and the status of the head of the mission has been elevated as well. The ASEAN-Korea Cooperation Fund, which is one of the financial tools for implementing the New Southern Policy, was doubled to US$14 million this year. All these measures, undoubtedly, have demonstrated how seriously Korea is committed to implementing the New Southern Policy.
Korea’s New Southern Policy is indeed a future-oriented foreign policy based on empirical observation of ASEAN-Korea relations over the past three decades. Thirty years ago when the world was on the verge of a new international order at the end of the Cold War, ASEAN and Korea tied the knot as sectoral dialogue partners. In 1989, bilateral trade volume was a mere $8.2 billion. Since then, however, this figure has increased exponentially.
We look forward to reaching $200 billion by 2020. ASEAN has become the second-largest trading partner of Korea and Korea is ASEAN’s fifth-largest. The people-to-people exchange was barely 100,000 in 1989, but this number had increased to more than 11 million as of 2018. All these figures tell us that Korea and ASEAN have already become inseparable partners.
After all, diplomatic relations are like personal relationships. ASEAN-Korea relations could make rapid progress not only on the basis of common interests but also mutual trust and shared values. Indeed, ASEAN and Korea are natural partners in every sense. Geographically, both of us are in East Asia. Historically, we share similar experiences. Culturally, our values are almost identical.
Politically, we all aspire for peace. This is exactly the background of the New Southern Policy, which pursues the strengthening of the ties of friendship and cooperation with ASEAN with regard to the three major pillars of people, prosperity and peace.
On Nov. 25 and 26, 10 leaders of ASEAN and President Moon will gather in Busan, South Korea, for the Commemorative Summit to celebrate the 30 years of dialogue relations. By hosting this summit, Korea will become the only dialogue partner of ASEAN to have hosted three Commemorative Summits, once every five years starting in 2009. The upcoming summit will provide us with a valuable opportunity to look back upon the achievements that Korea and ASEAN have made hand-in-hand for the last three decades, and to chart a new blueprint of the next 30 years ahead of us.
Before and during the summit, there will also be a wide variety of important and interesting events including the ASEAN-Korea CEO Summit, ASEAN-Korea Culture Innovation Summit, ASEAN-Korea Startup Summit, ASEAN-Korea Smart City Fair and the ASEAN-Korea Pop Music Concert.
I strongly hope and believe that the 2019 ASEAN-Korea Commemorative Summit will be recorded as a meaningful milestone in the annals of the ASEAN-Korea relationship. In other words, the Commemorative Summit will be an epoch-making event, where ASEAN and Korea will embark on a new journey “to walk to the border and sail to the island” for building our people-centered community of peace and prosperity.
Ambassador of South Korea to ASEAN
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.