Seoul spreads wings by co-opting Southeast Asia

By Ma Weiying Source:Global Times Published: 2018/11/21 15:33:40

Seoul spreads wings by co-opting SE Asia

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

South Korea's New Southern Policy has been raised a lot at multiple diplomatic forums recently.

On November 14, South Korean President Moon Jae-in illustrated the essence of this policy to ASEAN members while attending the 20th ASEAN-South Korea summit in Singapore. He proposed holding a special South Korea-ASEAN summit in his country next year and organizing an inaugural South Korea-Mekong summit with five of the countries on the Mekong river.

In early November, South Korean first lady Kim Jung-sook visited India, with the aim of connecting her country's New Southern Policy with India's Act East policy.

The New Southern Policy is an important roadmap by the Moon government to spread the footprint of the South Korean economy in Southeast Asia and South Asia. It was first articulated in Moon's Berlin Doctrine speech which envisions to boost cooperation with ASEAN countries and strengthen strategic and economic cooperation with India, a South Asian giant.

To push forward the New Southern Policy in a steadfast manner, Moon has carried out Southeast Asia diplomacy since becoming president and achieved good results.

In November last year, Moon made his first Southeast Asian tour by visiting Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines. When attending the business forum in Jakarta, he elaborated Seoul's New Southern Policy and expressed willingness to deepen economic cooperation with ASEAN. The two heads of state agreed to elevate their bilateral relations to a special strategic partnership and agreed to strengthen defense cooperation and explore new projects in industry, infrastructure and tourism.

Cooperation between South Korea and Vietnam has also witnessed a boom. Moon chose Vietnam as the destination of his first state visit in 2018. The Southeast Asian nation has become the fourth largest trading partner of South Korea in the world and the largest in ASEAN. Meanwhile, South Korea is Vietnam's largest source of foreign direct investment and its second largest trading partner.

As a developed economy among ASEAN member states, Singapore leads in new energy and smart industries. South Korean automobile groups Hyundai and Kia are cooperating with Grab - Singaporean version of Uber - and are planning to bring the business to Vietnam and Malaysia. South Korea also has an extensive foundation for cooperation with other Southeast Asian countries like Myanmar, Laos and Thailand. 

In South Asia, cooperation between South Korea and India has been there for years. The two signed a free trade agreement as early as 2009 and established a special strategic partnership in 2015. President Moon visited India in July this year and the two countries agreed to cooperate on smart cities and infrastructure development.

In its working plan for 2018, the South Korean government listed ASEAN as its diplomatic and economic focus and tried to make the bloc its core cooperation partner. It also plans to increase trade volume with ASEAN to $200 billion by 2020.

In the foreseeable future, South Korea will strive hard to advance its New Southern Policy. With the North Korean nuclear issue in a flux, the New Northern Policy can barely generate positive results soon. Comparatively, South Korea and ASEAN have good prospects for economic cooperation.

The investment and trade environment of China and the US, both of which are Seoul's main trading partners, is changing. Labor costs in China are rising and Beijing is setting stricter standards on the environment. Meanwhile, with US trade protectionism rising, Washington has imposed anti-dumping tariffs on a slew of South Korean products, making the prospect of bilateral trade look grim.

In such an international milieu, the Moon administration has emphasized diplomatic, trade and export multilateralism on many occasions, and emerging markets in Southeast Asia, South Asia and Central America will become the core of South Korean trade.

The author is an assistant research fellow at the Center of Northeast Asian Studies, Jilin Academy of Social Sciences.

Newspaper headline: Seoul spreads wings by co-opting SE Asia

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