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[ASEAN ISSUE #29] Reflections on the 2019 ASEAN-ROK Commemorative Summit and Future Direction of the New Southern Policy

Reflections on the 2019 ASEAN-ROK Commemorative Summit and Future Direction of the New Southern Policy

Kim Chang-nyun


Mr. Kim Chang-nyun is a Minister and Deputy Chief of Mission at the Mission of the Republic of Korea to ASEAN. He is an experienced ASEAN economy expert with over 20 years of service at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the ROK. He has previously served as Director for Trade and Investment Promotion and Director for East Asia Trade at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Minister-Counselor at the Embassy of the ROK in Indonesia, and Head of Development Planning and General Affairs Unit at the ASEAN-Korea Centre.

First Anniversary of the 2019 ASEAN-ROK Commemorative Summit


The world as we know it, has changed. I have lived through three different crises in my life. 

In November 2017, President Moon Jae-in of the Republic of Korea unveiled the New Southern Policy (NSP) during his visit to Indonesia. The initiative aims to elevate ASEAN-Korean ties to the level of the four major powers surrounding the Korean Peninsula. In this connection, the ASEAN-ROK Commemorative Summit was held in Busan on November 25-26, 2019, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their dialogue relations.


Last year’s commemorative summit was a milestone for the ASEAN-Korea partnership. It was successful not only in terms of its deliverables but also in terms of the numerous commemorative events that were held on the sidelines of the summit. Many of these events, such as ASEAN Fantasia, were attended by the leaders of the member states as well as joined by the peoples of both ASEAN and Korea. In fact, compared to previous commemorative summits, the number of participants increased fivefold.


I have been privileged to work at the forefront of this remarkable development of the ASEAN-Korea partnership, serving as a minister at the Mission of the Republic of Korea to ASEAN since 2019, after my posts at the Korean Embassy to Indonesia and the ASEAN-Korea Centre. Compared to 2010, when I was the Director for Trade between ASEAN and Korea at the then Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the increased amount of human and material resources invested in ASEAN diplomacy today reflects the heightened level of ASEAN-Korea relations in the last decade.



Current Status of New Southern Policy


In an effort to push forward with the NSP, the Korean government has launched the Presidential Committee on New Southern Policy and restructured the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to create the ASEAN Bureau, which traditionally was part of a larger department that also covered other parts of South Asia and the Pacific. The Mission of the ROK to ASEAN has been expanded, while annual contributions to the ASEAN-ROK Cooperation Fund have doubled to USD14 million.


The government reinforced the role of the ROK Mission to ASEAN to coordinate the implementation of the NSP in collaboration with the Embassies in each ASEAN Member State, carry out cooperative projects, and facilitate cooperation with government bodies and agencies. The number of staff at the mission tripled, and former Vice Foreign Minister has been appointed to head the mission.


This year, despite the pandemic sweeping across the globe, relations between ASEAN and Korea continued to expand. The ROK mission held numerous meetings over video conference to implement and make progress on what was agreed at last year´s commemorative summit and maintain the positive momentum of cooperation. As a case in point, Korea was more proactive than any other country in working on the agreements and deepening relations and cooperation with ASEAN during the Special ASEAN Plus Three Summit on COVID-19 which was held in April through video conference. Since the meeting, Korea has shared with countries in the region the "K-Quarantine" model and how the country had been dealing with the novel coronavirus through the 3Ts (test, trace and treat). Korea also promptly uted projects worth USD 5 million to assist the testing capabilities for ASEAN Member States. Korea was also the first dialogue partner to contribute USD 1 million to the COVID-19 ASEAN Response Fund which encouraged other countries to join.



Future Direction of New Southern Policy


During the 21st ASEAN-ROK Summit on November 12, 2020 President Moon shared progress of the NSP over the last three years and introduced the NSP Plus Strategy with a focus on seven key areas, reflecting ASEAN’s new demands for cooperation amid the challenges and disruptions posed by the pandemic. The new strategy is an upgraded version of the NSP, aiming to build a “People-centered Community of Peace and Prosperity,” and goes hand in hand with the recent initiatives of ASEAN, such as the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework (ACRF) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) signed by 15 countries, including the 10 ASEAN Member States.


First of all, the NSP should put the peoples of the two regions at its center. It is not about Korean companies making inroads or expanding their footholds in the ASEAN region, nor seeking an alternative market to China. Also, as a country with similar historical past as many of the Southeast Asian countries, Korea can share its experience of transforming from one of the poorest countries into a donor country.


In particular, under the NSP Plus Strategy, Korea should focus on assisting ASEAN countries suffering from the pandemic by providing medical equipment in the short term and supporting ASEAN’s health care systems in the longer term. Also, Korea needs to support the technical and vocational education and training (TVET) of the region for ASEAN to develop human resources to improve its competencies in the future.


I recently came across many comments about how the NSP has helped in improving public perception of ASEAN and its peoples in Korea. Koreans today have a better understanding of the region-beyond the tourist attractions, exotic delicacies, and migrant workers-and a growing recognition of the importance of ASEAN as Korea’s strategic partner.


Such observations clearly show that the policy has contributed to enhancing mutual understanding and connecting our peoples. In this sense, I think the policy can be dubbed a "pro-southern policy."


Secondly, ASEAN and Korea should seek a Community of Prosperity. At this year´s ASEAN Summit, ASEAN adopted the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework (ACRF) to address the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The five broad strategies of the ACRF (health systems, human security, maximizing the intra-ASEAN market´s potential and more comprehensive economic integration, digital transformation, and sustainable and resilient future) are in line with the seven key cooperative areas of the NSP Plus Strategy.


ASEAN is Korea´s second-largest trading partner and third-largest investment destination. The RCEP signed in November this year is expected to be an excellent opportunity to prevent trade protectionism and unilateralism, while championing an open, inclusive, and rules-based multilateral trading system. There should be more cooperation for co-prosperity in recovering the supply network disrupted by the pandemic, in signing Free Trade Agreements, in building a model for mutual growth between Korean investors and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the region, and in promoting transition toward a digital economy.


The ROK Mission to ASEAN is sparing no efforts to ensure success of NSP by delivering tangible outcomes including the establishment of platforms for cooperation such as the Korea-ASEAN financial cooperation center, the science and technology cooperation center, the industrial innovation organization, and the center for joint research on standardization.


Thirdly, ASEAN and Korea should work toward a Community of Peace. Both parties need to cooperate on resolving the North Korean nuclear issue and the conflicts in the South China Sea, which can be destabilizers in our region. Close cooperation is also required on non-traditional security issues, such as climate change, natural disasters, and terrorism.


Peace is a matter of survival, and a prerequisite for economic development. A true friend is one who is actively involved in addressing the issues of its neighbors. If ASEAN and Korea want to develop a true community of peace and prosperity, both parties need to be more involved in security issues of the region including cybersecurity and mine removal in the Mekong subregion.





According to a survey conducted earlier this year by the ISEAS Yusof-Ishak Institute in Singapore, the understanding of the opinion leaders of ASEAN on Korea’s NSP appeared to be below expectations.


Public perception cannot be changed overnight. Nevertheless, things will gradually improve if we continue to work on the NSP Plus Strategy, building on the achievements the past 3 years of NSP and 30 years of dialogue partnership with ASEAN.


The Mission of the ROK to ASEAN will more actively reach out to opinion leaders of the region to brief them on the contents of the NSP and make sure projects are successfully carried out. To do so, related agencies-the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, diplomatic missions in the region, and relevant government organizations-must work closely together among themselves as well as with the private sector.


With all these efforts, I believe the NSP will become an exemplary foreign policy in broadening Korea’s diplomatic horizons through spearheading the heightened ASEAN-Korea partnership.



The views and opinions expressed in the above article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the ASEAN-Korea Centre.

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