Seoul to upgrade ties with Asean

South Korean presidential adviser Park Cheol-hee meeting Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan in Singapore on May 3. PHOTO: SOUTH KOREAN EMBASSY IN SINGAPORE

Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan receiving South Korean presidential adviser Park Cheol-hee meeting in Singapore (Photo: Embassy of South Korea – Singapore) 

By Ivan Lim
Former AJA President, Contributor to AsiaN

SINGAPORE: THE Asean bloc is back in the limelight as South Korea aims to activate President Yoon Suk-yeol’s Korea-Asean Solidarity ( KASI) policy and move towards a “comprehensive strategic partnership”.

The KASI plan was launched with much fanfare by President Yoon in November 2022 when he attended the 23 rd Asean-Republic of Korea summit in Phnom Penh.

But then it snagged as Mr Yoon, who became president on May 2022, turned to the priority of courting United States and Japan as security allies as well as boosting ties with Middle-Eastern countries.

Now KASI is billed as a “life-line” for Seoul’s new move to boost ties with Asean countries that will go beyond trade and commerce. Key areas of collaboration will also cover defence co-operation, maritime security, digitalisation, and climate change as well as cultural exchanges.

To get things going, Seoul will offer Asean countries a list of 100 items to pick for bilateral projects.

“KASI is truly tailored to Asean countries only. Each country can take a look at the list and see what they can do with Korea and bring it to their Korean ambassador of the Foreign Ministry and we can go further”, said Dr Park Cheol-hee, a key aide of President Yoon.

The chief of Korea National Academy, a think tank, Dr Park made a swing through Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia, as part of a study trip on Asean.

He told the Press at the end of his Singapore visit on May 3: ”The whole of Asean region is very important to us. There is nothing that we cannot do here and we have a great advantage in approaching this region.”

The plus factors included lack of any historical baggage unlike Japan; and a willingness to share benefits.

As for raising the ties with Asean to a more comprehensive strategic partnership, Dr Park said: “Again, we are not approaching Asean as a luxury item. This is a very critical and necessary item for us.”

Asean is South Korea’s trade partner after China. Trade and investment between South Korean and Asean have been on an upward trend.

The KASI initiative, if successful, will build on President Moon Jae-in’s New Southern Policy (NSP) in 2017, being designed to boost co-operation and ties with Asean countries to match that of United States, China, Russia and Japan.

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