SEOUL - Mention Korea, and most Singaporeans will think of K-pop and Korean dramas.
But even as Singapore and South Korea continue to strengthen ties in traditional areas like culture and tourism, they can forge new ones in such areas as cyber security, smart cities and advanced manufacturing, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong noted in a meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Saturday (Nov 23).
Their meeting at the presidential Blue House in Seoul took place ahead of the Asean-Republic of Korea (ROK) Commemorative Summit in Busan on Monday and Tuesday (Nov 25 and 26), where PM Lee and other Asean leaders will join President Moon in commemorating the 30th anniversary of Asean-ROK dialogue relations.
In his opening remarks, PM Lee noted that both countries enjoyed warm bilateral relations, frequent high-level exchanges and close economic links.
He welcomed the expansion of the bilateral air services agreement which comes into effect on Tuesday. Under the expanded pact, Singapore and South Korean carriers can operate any number of passenger and cargo flights between any destinations in both countries.
"This will encourage more tourists as well as businesses to travel between the two countries and increase our economic relations, as well as enhance the hub positions of Changi Airport and Incheon Airport," said PM Lee.
He suggested improving the overall policy infrastructure for bilateral cooperation, for example, by upgrading the Korea-Singapore Free Trade Agreement inked in 2005.
In a press statement on Saturday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said President Moon conveyed South Korea's recognition of the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) as an International Search Authority and International Preliminary Examining Authority for international patent applications, which PM Lee welcomed.
Both leaders reaffirmed their commitment to achieve a swift entry-into-force of the updated agreement for the avoidance of double taxation, following its signing in May.
They looked forward to the establishment of a Korea Start-up Centre in Singapore in 2020, which will enable small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in South Korea to connect with Singapore's start-up and innovation ecosystem, and Singapore SMEs to explore partnership opportunities with South Korean companies.
They also welcomed the growing collaboration in areas such as smart cities, medical and biotechnology, smart grids, intellectual property and cyber security, the Foreign Ministry added in its statement.
At the start of the meeting, President Moon said that people-to-people exchanges between Singapore and South Korea have continued to grow.
Direct flights established between Singapore and Busan in May have enabled more people to travel between both countries, he noted.
On the follow-up from his state visit to Singapore in 2018, he said: "Our two countries resolved to engage in close cooperation for peace and prosperity in the region and usher in the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution together.
"I hope we will be able to come up with substantive cooperation plans in the fields of smart cities, SMEs, start-ups, bio-medicine."
He also thanked PM Lee for Singapore's hosting of the historic Trump-Kim summit in 2018.
In a wide-ranging discussion on regional and international issues, PM Lee welcomed President Moon's steadfast efforts to implement his New Southern Policy (NSP), which aims to deepen South Korea's strategic ties with South-east Asia in addition to its traditional partners the United States, China, Japan and Russia.
"The NSP fits in very closely with Asean's desire to deepen and enhance its strategic partnership with the ROK," he said.
He reaffirmed Singapore's commitment to work closely with South Korea and the rest of the international community to achieve a peaceful, stable and denuclearised Korean peninsula.
He also expressed his appreciation of the initiatives by the South Korean government, including President Moon's personal efforts to promote dialogue with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, said the Foreign Ministry.
Following their meeting, both leaders witnessed the signing and exchange of cooperation pacts in standards and conformance, manufacturing of pharmaceuticals, smart cities and cyber security.
Boosting cooperation in tourism and new areas
The meeting and exchanges were capped by a lunch which President Moon hosted for PM Lee.
During the lunch, Mr Lee recalled that he first visited South Korea in 1982.
He had returned many times since, bearing witness to its development into a leader in industrial and digital innovation. "On each trip, I have seen how it has progressed further as a country," he said.
Given that South Korea is a pioneer in 5G technology and the Internet of Things, he said it is timely for both countries to look beyond traditional areas of cooperation, and broaden their cooperation to include new areas like cyber security, fintech and advanced manufacturing.
But he acknowledged that for many Singaporeans, Korean dramas, food and K-pop idols remain the main draw.
Noting that bilateral tourism figures had more than doubled in the last 10 years to 860,000 in 2018, he quipped that Mrs Lee and himself are part of the statistics, as they holidayed in South Korea four years ago.
He said: "We visited Seoul and many other scenic places on the east coast of South Korea, including the fishing town of Jukbian and the historic city of Gyeongju. And we met quite a few Singaporeans also holidaying here, including a family of Singaporeans on top of Mount Seorak."
Singapore restaurants like Jumbo and Ya Kun have also brought Singapore cuisine, like chilli crab and kaya toast, to Seoul, he added.
"Our two countries will celebrate the 45th anniversary of our diplomatic relations in 2020, an important milestone... I am confident that our bilateral ties will ascend to new heights," he said.
'Miracles' on the Equator and Han river: S'pore, Korea share challenges and aspirations
Agreeing with PM Lee, President Moon dubbed the success stories of Singapore and South Korea, the "miracle on the Equator" and "miracle on the Han river" respectively.
"We share the experience of overcoming countless challenges, after shaking off the shackles of colonisation. In spite of our conspicuous lack of natural resources, we found hope in our people and duly nurtured talents," he said.
"Thanks to the diligence of the people, we were able to achieve remarkable economic development."
Mr Moon said that Singapore was able to transform its challenging geopolitical position into an advantage, by playing the role of a hub that links South-east and West Asia as well as the Middle East.
Drawing parallels to South Korea's own position of being surrounded by four great powers - the US, China, Japan and Russia - he said that Korea aspires to transform itself into a bridging state that links the Eurasian continent, the Pacific, Asean and India.
Concluding his speech, he said that both countries had resolved to strengthen their cooperation in cutting-edge fields, from smart cities and defence technology and cyber security, to ushering in the Fourth Industrial Revolution together.
PM Lee departs Seoul for Busan on Sunday for the two-day Asean-ROK Commemorative Summit, beginning on Monday.