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[Editorial] Prospects of the Korea-ASEAN Summit

Posted May. 29, 2009 06:48,   


President Lee Myung-bak and the leaders of 10 member nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, namely the Philippines, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, will hold a summit on Jeju Island Monday and Tuesday. Suggested by President Lee, the event will mark 20 years of ties between Korea and the association and the first multilateral meeting hosted by Korea since President Lee’s inauguration.

Korean diplomacy has long emphasized the four major powers of the United States, China, Japan and Russia. Diplomatic relations and trade with Asian nations have grown more significant, however. The Southeast Asian association is an economic bloc with a combined population of 580 million in 2007 and GDP of 1.28 trillion U.S. dollars. The bloc’s consumption is also expected to surge. Korea’s trade with the association’s member nations last year reached 90.2 billion dollars (49.3 billion dollars in exports and 40.9 billion dollars in imports), third behind Korea’s trade with China (168.3 billion dollars) and the European Union (98.3 billion dollars). The association also holds significant meaning of Seoul in politics and diplomacy since all 10 members have diplomatic ties with both Koreas. North Korea is a member of the ASEAN Regional Forum, which has considerable influence on economic ties and international politics in East Asia.

China and Japan have bolstered their positions in Southeast Asia because of their long struggle to strengthen their ties with the association. Asian finance ministers recently held a meeting and signed the Chiang Mai Initiative. Under the accord, South Korea will contribute 16 percent of a regional fund worth 120 billion dollars, Japan and China 32 percent each and the association 20 percent. The difference in the contribution amount correlates to status in the region. Several Southeast Asian nations including Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam, whose economies are relatively weaker, hope to learn from South Korea’s experience of rapid economic growth. Seoul must adopt flexible diplomatic policies as argued by the Lee administration and strengthen economic cooperation with the association’s nations.

Leaders and entrepreneurs of ten Southeast Asian nations and 700 South Korean entrepreneurs will hold talks at the ASEAN-Korea CEO Summit, which will be held on the sidelines of the Jeju summit. The CEO event could be a golden opportunity to eliminate obstacles in corporate activities and strengthen economic ties between South Korea and the association. It could also help South Korea expand cultural exchanges with Southeast Asian nations and improve global recognition of Jeju Island. Hopefully, the summit will serve as a precious occasion to strengthen bilateral ties and establish a comprehensive partnership contributing to mutual benefits.