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[Contribution] “Economic Security” Adds Significance to Korea’s Diplomacy toward ASEAN

“Economic Security” Adds Significance to Korea’s Diplomacy toward ASEAN

 

Amb. Kim Hae-yong / Secretary General of ASEAN-Korea Centre

February 24, 2022

 

(This is an unofficial translation of the contribution published in Maeil Business Newspaper on February 24, 2022.)

 

In light of recent global supply chain disruptions, “economic security” has become a national priority directly linked to people’s livelihoods, thereby changing diplomatic approaches. Economic issues are inseparable from national security by nature. Diplomacy and economic issues are increasingly converging and blurring their boundaries.

 

Now that economic security, a convergence of economics and security, is emerging as a key issue, it is essential that Korea direct even more attention to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. ASEAN is the supplier of various resources, the base for major corporate production activities, and a huge market with immense potential.

 

More than half of Samsung’s smartphones are produced in Vietnam. Hyundai Motor Company and LG Energy Solution source their key raw material for electric vehicles from Indonesia, the world’s largest nickel producer, and lead the creation of an EV industry ecosystem in Indonesia, the fourth most populous country in the world. Last year, when Korea was searching for alternative supply channels for urea solution due to China’s export curbs, Korea was able to quickly import urgent supplies from ASEAN countries including Vietnam.

 

Major powers have recognized ASEAN’s geopolitical and geo-economic importance and have long approached ASEAN strategically. The United States has expanded their Lower Mekong Initiative from 2009 to Mekong-U.S. Partnership in 2020, and Biden administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy and the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework which outlines a new economic norm also emphasize the importance of the ASEAN region. China, through the Belt and Road Initiative, has invested massively in infrastructure projects such as the Pan-Asia Railway Network, illustrating its desire for economic leadership in the vast region spanning from Southern China to ASEAN. Japan, since the Fukuda Doctrine of 1977, have steadily built up a “heart-to-heart” relationship with the ASEAN region based on equal partnership. As a result, Japan has successfully rid itself of associations with its militaristic past, and it remains the most trusted power in the ASEAN region in the annual survey conducted by the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.

 

The Korean government has also announced the New Southern Policy in 2017 and have both qualitatively and quantitatively strengthened ASEAN-Korea cooperation in respective fields. However, compared to the comprehensive approach of the major powers, Korea’s engagement with ASEAN is seen to be focused much on the consideration of production efficiency and cost reductions.

 

Now is the time for a different approach that reflects rapidly changing international circumstances. As ASEAN pursues an integrated Community comprised of three pillars, namely political and security, economic, and socio-cultural pillars, Korea needs to respond with a comprehensive foreign policy toward ASEAN while reinforcing the link between diplomacy and economy.

 

Korea must also take into account ASEAN member states’ strong commitment to technological development and integration into the global supply chain, and discuss ways to expand cooperation on these issues. Further communication on issues highlighted by the pandemic, such as public health and response to climate change, is also needed. Additional areas for progress include supporting Korean corporations in ASEAN to ensure that they can smoothly carry out business activities, and changing ASEAN opinion leaders’ perception on Korea’s efforts for a mutually beneficial partnership.

 

The Korean government also appears to be preparing for the new era of economic security by launching the “Center for Economic Security and Foreign Affairs” within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and strengthening the role of diplomatic missions abroad. To pursue effective diplomacy toward ASEAN from an economic security perspective, Korea needs to greet ASEAN with a more comprehensive outlook. It is essential that Korea upgrade its “economic security diplomacy” so as not to be sidelined by vigorous diplomacy of the major powers in the region.

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