PM Lee urges Asean, Korea to boost air links for economic and strategic benefits

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong attends the formal session of the Asean-Republic of Korea Commemorative Summit in Busan on Dec 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong attends the formal session of the Asean-Republic of Korea Commemorative Summit in Busan on Dec 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP

BUSAN - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has urged Asean nations and South Korea to push on with efforts to boost air links between the countries, so as to give a lift to trade, tourism and economic growth.

He made these remarks at the Asean-Republic of Korea Commemorative Summit in Busan on Friday, as leaders of the 10 Asean nations and South Korea met to mark their 25th anniversary of establishing relations.

Echoing a point he had made the previous day to South Korean President Park Geun Hye, Mr Lee called for improved air services connectivity between Asean cities and South Korea.

Apart from the economic perks, this would also help maintain "balanced and equitable relations" between the 10-nation bloc and its East Asian partners of China, Japan and South Korea, he said.

He also encouraged Asean and South Korea to conclude a liberal air services agreement in the works, which includes the exchange of "mutually beneficial air traffic rights".

Besides air links, Mr Lee also urged Asean and South Korea leaders to improve trade between the nations.

During the summit, the leaders had reiterated their goal to raise trade volumes between Asean and South Korea to US$200 billion (S$263 billion) by 2020.

Mr Lee said this could be done through making better use of the Asean-Korea free trade agreement. Currently, trade between Asean and South Korea stands at US$135 billion (S$178 billion).

He also urged his fellow leaders to swiftly conclude the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which would become the largest free trade agreement in the world when completed.

On Friday, Mr Lee also touched on the issue of North Korea. He said that Asean supports "peace and denuclearisation" in the Korean Peninsula, and that Singapore wants to see a North Korea that is "fully integrated with the region and part of East Asia's growth story".

Mr Lee encouraged all parties involved to "exercise restraint and resume dialogue as soon as possible".

During his speech, Mr Lee also sent condolences to South Korea for the sinking of the Sewol ferry in April. More than 300 people, many students on an excursion, died in the disaster.

He also sent condolences to Filipino President Benigno Aquino for lives lost in Typhoon Hagupit.