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Moon hosts Asean leaders on 30th anniversary

New Southern Policy has directed Korea’s attention to the region
Nov 25,2019
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The Korea JoongAng Daily created this digital composite image of Korean President Moon Jae-in, center, and 10 Asean leaders posing for a group photo at the 2019 Asean-Republic of Korea Commemorative Summit. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, third from right, canceled his participation at the last minute citing a family member’s health emergency. Cambodian Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhonn will represent the country at the special summit instead.
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President Moon Jae-in’s special summit with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) is a major milestone in his ambitious campaign to upgrade the country’s diplomatic relations and business dealings with that part of Asia.

The summit starts today in Busan.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of South Korea’s opening of diplomatic relations with Asean, a regional, political and economic grouping of 10 countries. Moon has promoted a New Southern Policy to more actively engage with that part of Asia, and he is hosting the summit to commemorate the 30-years of ties.

Moon’s engagement with Asean started soon after he came into office. He sent a special envoy to Asean to explain his vision. As of last September, Moon had made official visits to all 10 Asean countries — as pledged.

The Asean-Korea special summit will take place in the Busan Exhibition & Convention Center, or Bexco, today and tomorrow. Moon and state heads of nine member countries — Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam — will attend the event. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen canceled his participation at the last minute citing a family member’s health emergency. Cambodian Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhonn will represent the country at the special summit instead.

Moon will also host the first summit between South Korea and the Mekong countries — Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam — on Wednesday at the Nurimaru APEC House.

According to the government, about 10,000 visitors from Asean countries will visit Busan for the summits. Visitors include the delegations accompanying the leaders of the 10 member countries as well as businessmen and journalists.

“President Moon declared his New Southern Policy vision when he visited Jakarta, [Indonesia], in November 2017,” Presidential Economic Adviser Joo Hyung-chul said Wednesday. “One year later, at the Korea-Asean summit in Singapore, Moon offered to host the commemorative summit this year, and it was successfully arranged.”

According to Joo, Moon sees the special summit as a midterm milestone for his New Southern Policy. “Using this event as an opportunity, we will review the progress and propose new projects in order to create a sustainable basis to continue the New Southern Policy,” Joo said. “This summit is an important opportunity for Korea to elevate its relations with Asean to the next level.”

In addition to the multilateral events, Moon will have separate bilateral summits with all 10 leaders of the Asean countries. The summits started with Moon’s meetings with Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Saturday and Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah on Sunday. Those two summits took place in Seoul.

Today and tomorrow, Moon is scheduled to have five summits in Busan: with Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith.

After he returns to Seoul, Moon will have a summit with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc on Wednesday and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad on Thursday.

A series of business and cultural events is also planned, and Moon will attend some of them. Today, Moon is scheduled to attend the CEO Summit and Culture Innovation Forum. About 500 government officials, scholars and businessmen from Korea and the Asean countries will attend the CEO summit.

The cultural forum will be participated in by Korean government officials and experts in the field of innovative cultural industries.

Moon will host a grand welcome dinner tonight for the summit participants, the Blue House said. About 300 guests including 150 from Asean countries will attend. Among the 150 Korean participants are 20 members of the business community including Samsung Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong, Hyundai Motor Group Executive Vice Chairman Euisun Chung, SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won and LG Group Chairman Koo Kwang-mo. Also attending are government officials, prominent artists and media figures.

On Tuesday, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy will host a show at Bexco featuring innovative technologies by 40 Korean companies. The Ministry of SMEs and Startups will also host a Startup Expo and Korea K-Beauty Festival.

Various cultural events featuring food, fashion and arts of the Asean countries will take place in Busan throughout this week.

Special events are also planned for the Korea-Mekong summit. The Ministry of Environment will host a special exhibition on biodiversity cooperation between Korea and the Mekong countries at Bexco.

The Blue House said media statements summarizing the Korea-Asean summit and Korea-Mekong summit will be announced after the meetings.

When Korea first established ties with Asean in 1989, trade volume between Korea and the region was only $8.2 billion. Last year, trade reached a record $159.9 billion.

Relations between Korea and Asean have long centered on economic exchanges and trade, but efforts started in the past decade to diversify the ties. Korea hosted special summits with Asean in 2009 and 2014, and the Asean-Korea Centre and the Korean Mission to Asean were established in 2012.

After Moon took office in 2017, the government tried to upgrade its ties with Asean. Korea’s ambassador to Asean was elevated to a vice-minister-level position, and the budget for the Asean-Korea Cooperation Fund was doubled from an annual $7 million to $14 million.

One of Moon’s policy advisers said Nov. 19 that the administration decided to push the New Southern Policy for strategic reasons, following diplomatic trouble with China and Japan in particular.

In a meeting with reporters, Jung Hae-gu, chairman of the Presidential Commission on Policy Planning, said the Moon government saw a need to diversify its diplomacy beyond the four major powers — the United States, China, Japan and Russia.

“Until now, our focus largely remained with the four superpowers,” he said. “In order to expand our trade to the world, we decided to pay special attention to the Southeast Asian nations.”

Jung said recent conflict with China over the previous administration’s decision to allow the U.S.-led deployment of an advanced antimissile shield and an ongoing diplomatic and trade row with Japan are evidence of why Korea needs the New Southern Policy.

“When China banned tours to Korea over the missile shield issue, we faced serious difficulties,” Jung said. “It was a trigger that pushed us to create a breakthrough. Recently, the Korea-Japan history dispute spilled over into a trade row, and we needed a breakthrough.”

He said the New Southern Policy of Moon has already produced dividends. “People-to-people exchanges and trade with the Asean countries are significantly expanding,” he said.

He also forecast that the policy will continue to be important because Asian economies including China, India, Korea and Japan will lead the world economy in a couple of decades. “To prepare for the future, this policy is crucial,” Jung said.

The Moon administration also sees importance in Seoul to strengthening its cooperation with the Asean countries on security issues. North Korea, despite its reclusive nature, is maintaining special relations with that regional community. It is a member of the Asean Regional Forum (ARF), which it joined in 2000. The South has been a member of the ARF since its creation in 1994.

Moon has repeatedly asked for Asean’s support for his own North Korea policy, known as the Korea peace process, and his latest appeal was made earlier this week. “The two North Korea-United States summits held in Asean member states [of Singapore and Vietnam] helped restart dialogue over peace on the Korean Peninsula,” Moon said in an op-ed published by the Asia News Network on Nov. 18, “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,” he wrote. “I am looking forward to in-depth discussions ... at the upcoming summits as well.”

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]