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Moon unveils a ‘southern strategy’

Nov 10,2017
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Korean President Moon Jae-in, second from left, and Indonesian President Joko Widodo, second from right, stand together with their wives in the Presidential Palace in Jakarta before a bilateral summit on Thursday. [YONHAP]
President Moon Jae-in announced Thursday an ambitious vision to expand Korea’s influence in Southeast Asia with a promise to treat the region as a diplomatic and economic partner as important as the global superpowers.

Moon made public the plan during a speech in Jakarta at a business forum. He arrived in the capital city of Indonesia for a three-day visit on Wednesday. A summit with Indonesian President Joko Widodo was scheduled for Thursday afternoon.

Earlier in the day, Moon attended a meeting with 400 Korean and Indonesian business leaders. In a speech, Moon announced a policy to drastically boost exchanges and cooperation with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

“It is my goal to elevate Korea’s relationship with Asean to the level of its relations with the four major powers around the Korean Peninsula,” Moon said. The four major powers refer to the United States, China, Japan and Russia.

“To this end, the Korean government will strongly push forward a new southern policy to dramatically improve cooperative ties with Asean,” Moon said. “The Korea-Asean relationship used to be centered on trade of goods, but I want to expand it to exchanges of technologies, culture, arts and people. We can start reinforcing the cooperation from the areas that are essential for the Asean countries such as transportation, energy, water management and smart information and communication technology.

“I hope to build together a community of people, where the people’s hearts are connected, a community of peace that will contribute to peace in Asia through security cooperation, and a community of prosperity through mutually beneficial economic cooperation.”

Kim Hyun-chul, economic adviser to Moon, said Thursday that Moon’s Asean doctrine starts immediately.

“After experiencing conflicts with the United States over the free trade agreement and with China over the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense antimissile system deployment, the government and the people began to see that economic diplomacy centered on the G-2 has limits,” Kim said. “Separate from security strategy centered on the United States and China, we need to find a new axis of economic diplomacy using the new northern policy and the new southern policy.”

At the Eastern Economic Forum in Russia in September, Moon presented his new northern policy, featuring Korea’s plan to bolster energy and logistics cooperation with Russia and eventually with North Korea. The Moon administration has said the new northern and southern policies are a pair of plans to expand Korea’s economic cooperation partners.

“We want to expand trade with Asean to the level of China,” Kim said. “Right now, our annual trade with China is about $210 billion. We will raise our trade with Asean to match that by 2021.”

Moon clearly wants to reduce Korea’s heavy dependence on China, its largest trade partner, by diversifying its market. Another senior official said “Asean can be another China for us.”

More details of the vision will be further discussed when Moon visits the Philippines for Asean meetings next week.

“In order to further push forward the doctrine, we plan to visit India next spring,” Kim said, expanding the vision beyond the 10-nation Asean. “Around this time next year, we also want to visit three other countries in Southeast Asia.”

Kim also explained “people, peace and prosperity” were selected as the keywords for the new southern policy. “We cannot compete against China and Japan in terms of quantity such as official development assistance,” Kim said. “So it is our plan to use a differentiation strategy.”

Kim said the people strategy will expand exchanges between not only governments but also business, local governments, cultural communities and students. “The key is having a true exchange of soft power, such as Hallyu [the Korean wave of popular culture] and Southeast Asian foods,” Kim said.

The prosperity strategy will focus on Korea’s use of Asean labor while sharing its capital and technology, Kim said. Increasing Korea’s imports of Southeast Asian agricultural products and natural resources is also a part of the plan.

For the peace strategy, Kim said Korea must utilize the geopolitical strategic importance of Asean. Noting that all 10 member nations of the Asean are maintaining diplomatic relations with North Korea, Kim said it is important to use the diplomatic capacity of the region to make the North join negotiations.

Meanwhile, Korea and Indonesia signed Thursday five memoranda of understanding for transportation and infrastructure projects worth $1.9 billion.

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