President Moon Jae-in's vision for South Korea and Asean to prosper together

South Korean President Moon Jae-in laid down his vision for South Korea and Asean to prosper together at the CEO Summit in Busan, in conjunction with the Asean-Republic of Korea Commemorative Summit. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BUSAN - To further upgrade ties with South-east Asia, South Korean President Moon Jae-in has called for the expansion of people-to-people exchanges, boosting innovative growth and strengthening connectivity.

He laid down his vision for South Korea and Asean to prosper together at the CEO Summit on Monday (Nov 25) in Busan, in conjunction with the Asean-Republic of Korea (ROK) Commemorative Summit.

"I hope that with the summit, our friendship will deepen further and our sense of responsibility will grow larger," said Mr Moon.

"I look forward to jointly creating a mutually prosperous future together."

Ties between South-east Asia and South Korea have grown rapidly under the Moon administration, which introduced the New Southern Policy in 2017 aimed at elevating ties with Asean nations to the level of Seoul's traditional partners, the United States, China, Russia and Japan.

Bilateral trade increased to a high of US$160 billion (S$218 billion) last year - up from US$119 billion in 2016 - while two-way tourist traffic reached an impressive 11 million people.

Speaking at Bexco Convention Centre, Mr Moon cited three areas of cooperation for both sides to grow further together.

First, he called for people-centred, inclusive cooperation.

The President pledged to expand training programmes and scholarships for Asean youths and to establish more joint research institutes, such as the Vietnam-Korea Institute of Science and Technology.

"We will also strengthen cooperation in rural development with Mekong countries so that the 'can-do' confidence of Korea's Saemaul Undong extends to 'miracle on the Mekong River'," he said, referring to South Korea's new village movement that modernised the local economy in the 1970s.

Mekong countries include Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, which are all linked by the Mekong River.

Asean leaders including Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and Laotian Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith were among the 500 government officials and businessmen who attended the opening of the CEO Summit.

Mr Moon told them another another area of cooperation was innovative growth.

By expanding technology-related cooperation and nurturing start-ups, he said Asean and South Korea could boost their competitiveness in the emerging Fourth Industrial Revolution.

A new business cooperation centre will also help Korean companies break into South-east Asia and "become a cornerstone that strengthens the competitiveness of Asean-based companies", he added.

Finally, Mr Moon said South Korea could help strengthen connectivity in Asean.

He reaffirmed a commitment to develop infrastructure in South-east Asia, leveraging on South Korea's strengths in transportation, energy and smart cities.

"Asean is Korea's friend forever... We will always stand by each other with the belief that Asean's development is equivalent to Korea's," Mr Moon declared.

Separately, at the opening of the Asean-Korea Culture Innovation Forum yesterday (Nov 25), Mr Moon called for more cultural cooperation between Seoul and the regional bloc.

"When Asean meets Korea, Asean culture can also go global quickly. I hereby propose that we go after the global market together," he said.

The South Korean leader is due to meet all Asean leaders on Tuesday at the Asean-ROK Commemorative Summit, which marks 30 years of dialogue partnership between the two.

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