The Korea Herald/ANN
South Korea’s top government and political figures, corporate executives and diplomats from Southeast Asia gathered at The Korea Herald’s inaugural business forum Tuesday, an event that aimed to increase mutual understanding and cooperation and reinforce economic ties between the two sides.
The Korea Herald Biz Forum reflected the Moon Jae-in government’s “New Southern Policy,” which strives to elevate Korea’s diplomatic and economic ties with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations as well as India and stresses the region’s rising importance. The forum was co-hosted by the ASEAN-Korea Centre.
Kim Hyun-chul, chairman of a presidential committee responsible for the new policy, said the government is moving to embrace Southeast Asia as a new growth engine, one that can help Korea boost its economy and diversify its trade relations.
“After 50 years of rapid development, Korea is on the brink of a structural change toward slowed growth. The Korean Peninsula is also embarking onto an era of peace and prosperity after 70 years of confrontation,” said Kim, who is also an adviser to the president on economic affairs, during a congratulatory speech.
“At this critical juncture, the Moon government began pushing forward the New Southern Policy. Under the ‘three P’ initiatives of prosperity, people and peace, we aim to not only establish specialized trading ties with ASEAN and India, but also to foster peace and mutual prosperity.”
Until now, China has accounted for around 25 percent of Korea’s trade volume. But this reliance on China must shift instead to the ASEAN states, Kim said, touching on the Moon administration’s stated pledge to raise Korea’s trade volume with ASEAN to $200 billion by 2020, which would bring it to the current level of trade with China.
Sohn Hak-kyu, chairman of the opposition Bareunmirae Party, said, “Southeast Asia is where the major economic opportunities lie for Korea. Korea’s main trade relations were initially focused on the US, and later China. But with unstable trade conditions with those two states, Korea must now turn to the New South.”
Kim Byong-joon, chairman of the emergency committee of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, praised Southeast Asia’s rapid economic growth and its strong business innovation, saying Korea has much to learn from it. As an example, he cited the Singapore-based ride-hailing giant Grab.
Lee Hyuk, secretary-general of the ASEAN-Korea Centre, said Moon’s New Southern Policy reflects the strengthened economic and demographic relations between Korea and ASEAN.
Trade between Korea and ASEAN reached $150 billion last year, making ASEAN Korea’s second-largest trade partner, after China. Nearly 10 million people traveled between Korea and Southeast Asia last year as well, signaling vast room for further cooperation.
The former Korean ambassador to Vietnam also praised ASEAN’s role in leading a breakthrough in inter-Korean relations, including Singapore’s role as host of the historic US-North Korea Summit in June.
“I am confident that ASEAN will be a strong economic partner and a partner for peace and stability in East Asia in our journey to create a peaceful and prosperous Korean Peninsula,” Lee said.
Dr. Aladdin D. Rillo, deputy secretary-general of ASEAN for the ASEAN Economic Community, spoke of ASEAN’s readiness to welcome private-sector investment into the region.
“Under the ASEAN economic community, the elimination of the various barriers and impediments in trading goods and services and investments has created a substantial gain for the region,” Rillo said.
“For example, trade costs over the last decade have been reduced around 18 percent and the reduction in trade costs is further targeted to come down to around 10 percent by 2020. By 2025 or 2030 we also expect intra-ASEAN trading in the region to double. I think this is possible as we continue to eliminate tariffs and continue to intensify trade in ASEAN.”
The forum featured a series of lectures on Korea-ASEAN relations on topics that included the details of Moon’s New Southern Policy, the digital entertainment and content markets of ASEAN and India, the role of the ASEAN countries in integrating the economies of North and South Korea and the legal implications for foreign investors seeking business projects in the ASEAN region.
Kwak Sung-il, director general of the New Southern Policy department at the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy, said the New Southern Policy focuses on fortifying economic relations, but also strives for more inclusive, sustainable policies that will benefit both Korea and ASEAN.
Lee Sung-min, a research associate at the Korea Culture and Tourism Institute, discussed the digital revolution sweeping Southeast Asia and the opportunities it presents for Korean entertainment and content providers.
“The market is evolving from a copyright-based model to one based on a content’s intellectual property. IP-based products, mainly concerts and merchandise, can translate into strong business models,” he said.
Geoffrey See, founder and CEO of Singapore-based Choson Exchange, which provides training for North Koreans in entrepreneurship and business creation, shared how Singapore and Vietnam are serving as neutral platforms for the building of economic ties between North and South Korea.
“Singapore and ASEAN are seen as a neutral, trusted and developed region. And many North Koreans who come to Singapore know of Singapore’s reputation and neutrality. We’ve earned their respect and trust over time and opportunity to come up to an environment where they can take home knowledge,” See said.
Jeong Cheol, an attorney at local law firm Jipyong LLC, discussed legal issues facing foreign investors doing business in the ASEAN region.
The Korea Herald Biz Forum was held Tuesday at Hotel Shilla Seoul and brought together more than 200 high-level government officials, business executives from Korea’s top corporations and foreign ambassadors.