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[CAPK Contribution #1] Digital Economy and Hallyu: Opportunities and Challenges for a South Korea-Indonesia Partnership

*Disclaimer: The opinions and views expressed in this article are solely the authors’ own and do not reflect the opinions or views of the ASEAN-Korea Centre or Council of ASEAN Professors in Korea.

*이 글에 표현된 의견 및 견해는 전적으로 저자 개인의 의견으로 한-아세안센터 또는 주한 아세안 교수협의회의 공식의견과 무관함을 밝힙니다.


Digital Economy and Hallyu:

Opportunities and Challenges for a South Korea-Indonesia Partnership


Ratih Indraswari




South Korea and Indonesia have levitated their bilateral relationships into the special strategic partnerships along with the launching of New Southern Policy (NSP) and the signing of the Joint Vision Statement for Co-Prosperity and Peace in 2017. One of the goals to be achieved from this increasing closer partnerships is to enhance economic cooperation that benefits people from both countries. To date, economic cooperations between South Korea and Indonesia have been focused on key industry sectors, mainly in manufacturing and infrastructure. Yet with the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR), a new alternative opportunity for economic partnership prevails. This essay argues that digital economy is a potential sector to sustain the South Korea-Indonesia partnerships in the future. The rise of the e-commerce market contributes to the goal of co-prosperity by allowing further people-to-people economic interactions. This essay finds that Hallyu serves as the linking point to bridge the interplay between people and prosperity.


Keywords: South Korea, Indonesia, Hallyu, Digital Economy, E-commerce





The Republic of Korea, henceforth South Korea, has intensified its relations with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)1 along with President Moon Jae-in’s hallmark New Southern Policy2. Built upon three pillars: Prosperity, People, and Peace (3P), the policy aims “to elevate Korea's relationship with ASEAN to the level of its relations with the four major powers” (Presidential Committee on New Southern Policy, 2017, p. 4) and was first introduced during President Moon’s visit to Indonesia in 2017. Since its inception, NSP has been highlighting the importance of the economic relationship that is built upon the People pillar that “will lay a solid foundation on all cooperative projects” (Presidential Committee on New Southern Policy, 2017, p. 4).


A big data analysis conducted by the ASEAN-Korea Centre (AKC) in 2018 seconds this initial argument (Won, 2018). The analysis shows positive economic perception is shared by the South Korean public. Up to 48% of the total volume of text collected refers to ASEAN economic potentials with keywords on ‘increase’, ‘enlarges’, ‘engage’, ‘record surplus’ and ‘entry to the market’ (Won, 2018, p. 9). ASEAN is perceived as a giant market with growing middle-class consumers allowing for the successful performance of South Korean companies. The analysis shows that the future perceptions of the South Korea - ASEAN relationship look promising with confidence that it will get better in the future (Won, 2018).


The relationship has achieved one of its economic milieus by the signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)3 in 2020. Southeast Asia has become the destination for South Korean enterprises and the number is increasing from 13,388 enterprises in 2017 to 16,694 in 2020. People-to-people mobility was also steadily increasing. Before COVID-19, the number reached almost US$13 million in 2019 (Sungnam, 2020) with an annual increase of 10% yearly (Kwak, 2020). Southeast Asia also sees an increasing growth of Hallyu that served as the firm foundation on the ‘two-way’ relationships (Handayani, 2019; Kim, 2017).


Noting the interplay between the People and Prosperity pillars, the essay highlights the relationship between Hallyu and the growing market of the digital economy in Indonesia. Indonesia is chosen due to its potentials; large demography of the young generation with affinities toward South Korean culture and the potential of the digital market. This essay finds that analyses on the potential of the digital economy between Indonesia and South Korea are still limitedly explored. It further argues that e-commerce provides an alternative potential sector to sustain the bilateral partnership in the future.


The research employs qualitative explorative secondary data to identify the challenges and opportunities of bilateral partnerships in the issues above. The first section of this paper addresses the state of the Indonesia and South Korea relationship. The second section focuses on Hallyu’s potential outlook within Indonesia. The third section highlights Indonesia’s emerging digital market economy. The last section provides recommendations to increase the bilateral partnership.



B.Indonesia - South Korea Relationship


Indonesia and South Korea's diplomatic relations dates back to 1973 and had entered a new phase in 2017 during President Moon’s visit to Indonesia. Accompanied by a delegation of 200 business leaders, Indonesia was chosen as his first country to visit in Southeast Asia, soon after he assumed office (Whiteside, 2017). Through the visit, President Joko Widodo and President Moon agreed to elevate the bilateral relations to a ‘special strategic partnership’ through the signing of the “Republic of Indonesia-Republic of Korea Joint Vision Statement for Co-Prosperity and Peace” document. The document focuses on partnerships in defense, trade, and infrastructure, people-to-people exchange as well as exchanging supports within regional and global cooperation.


Indonesia and South Korea share a high tourism potential due to increasing Korean cultural dissemination. People-to-people exchange is also increasing amongst the youth. 1,685 Indonesian college students were studying in South Korea in the first quarter of 2019. In return, Indonesia has given 240 Darmasiswa and 19 Indonesian Arts and Culture Scholarship (IACS)4 to students of South Korea from 2009 until 2019 (Embassy of the Republic Indonesia in Seoul, 2018).


In the economic sector, the Co-Prosperity and Peace document sets to reach a bilateral trade volume of US$30 billion by 2022 (Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia in Seoul, 2018). Indonesia encourages South Korean companies to extend their business and investment to accelerate industrialization, infrastructure, and connectivity development to promote the economic growth and development of Indonesia. Both countries agree to facilitate investment in new growth engine sectors, mainly tourism, health and medical services, green energy, and also content industry and information technology (Embassy of the Republic Indonesia in Seoul, 2018).


Upon the elevation of relations between Indonesia and South Korea to that of Special Strategic Partners in 2017, total trade increased 12.6% in 2018 reaching US$18.5 billion (Embassy of the Republic Indonesia in Seoul, 2018). South Korea has signed the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with Indonesia in 2020. In CEPA, both countries agreed to eliminate tariffs for up to 95.8% of Indonesian goods and 94.8% of South Korean goods. CEPA’s tariff reduction is higher than RCEP’s prompting a push to increase trade exchanges (Kang 2020). Additionally, Indonesia hosted up to 2,332 South Korean enterprises (ASEAN-Korea Centre, 2020). In investment, the Indonesia Investment Coordinating Board noted that South Korea is ranked the 7th with a total of US$683 million in 2020 (Indonesia Ministry of Investment, 2020).


President Jokowi’s penchant for the economy has been clear in its foreign policy. Economic diplomacy has been heralded in which he urges for Indonesia’s diplomatic mission to act as ‘investment ambassadors’. Their primary task is to attract more investment in high import content industries such as petrochemicals, gas, and downstream natural resources (Gorbiano, 2020). South Korea has become one of Indonesia’s strategic partners in its economic transformation from natural resources extraction into manufacturing industries. In 2020, South Korea's investments focused on the electricity, water and gas sector, followed by chemical and pharmaceuticals, textile, leather goods footwear, and the food industry (Indonesia Ministry of Investment, 2020). Recently, the automotive industry occupied the central narrative of Indonesia- South Korea economic partnership; with hallmark projects on Electric Vehicles (EV) deal in which Hyundai Motor and LG Energy Solution aim to build a US$1.1 billion EV battery cell plan in Karawang (Yi, 2021).


With the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR), increasing opportunities brought about by technology and digitalization are impacting the Indonesia-South Korea relationship. How both countries can utilize this opportunity beyond the manufacturing industry will be explained by the rise of the digital market economy.



C.Hallyu (Korean Wave)


Hallyu (Korean Wave) is a term that is used to depict the popularity of the South Korean cultural phenomenon (Haughland, 2020). According to the 2019 Hallyu White Paper (KOFICE, 2020b), there are 7 popular cultural contents of Hallyu including broadcast programs, film, music, performing arts, games, comics or webtoons, and publications; and four major consumer goods and service industries including fashion, food, tourism, and cosmetics (beauty). Hallyu gained its earliest fame when the term was first used in the 1990s. It gained popularity in Japan and China within the first decade with the dissemination of Korean drama, and then in the 2020s expanded its fan base to a global stage. In the 21st century, the popularity of Hallyu is increasing because of K-pop (Korean pop) artists such as BTS, EXO, Blackpink, and Twice. Based on the Global Hallyu Trends 2020 reports, the global public views K-pop as the image commonly associated with Hallyu followed by Korean food, K-drama, and the IT industry (KOFICE, 2020b).


Globally, there are 104 million members of K-pop’s fan base in 98 countries (Dong, 2021). However, the Asia region saw a decrease of 4% from around 72 million members in 2019 to 69 million in 2020 (Joori and Lee, 2021). This is suspected due to Japan’s and China’s political and diplomatic conflicts with South Korea (KOFICE, 2020b). Hallyu’s growth has also stagnated as the COVID-19 pandemic has hindered its further dissemination. However, an opposite trend has emerged among major ASEAN members where the increasing consumption, growth, and popularity of Hallyu are championed by Indonesia and Vietnam, as well as Malaysia and Thailand (KOFICE, 2020b).


Hallyu's popularity has been used to support South Korea’s foreign policy in increasing its attractiveness to the foreign public. Hallyu is constitutive to South Korea's efforts in developing its attractiveness because cultural capital is viewed as no less important than human and natural capital (Throsby, 1999). Projection of Korean culture, especially through pop culture content, is not only beneficial in creating a positive image of South Korea’s image, perceived value, and association, but it also increases commercial benefits through tourism and cultural product consumption (Huh & Wu, 2017). This link between cultural content and the commercial domain could likely be due to the increased familiarity with South Korea that is embedded in Hallyu products (Seo & Kim, 2020).


South Korea’s soft power has been increasing steadily, globally ranked from 21st in 2017 to 19th in 2019 with strength in its digital infrastructure (McClory, 2019). Technology brands dominate South Korea’s most valuable brands with Samsung ranked 5th globally along with tech giants Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and Google (Yoo, 2021). Total global exports driven by Hallyu increased, from US$10 billion in 2018 to US$12.3 billion in 2019. During this period, export of cultural content rose from US$5.3 billion to US$6.3 billion, while export of consumer goods and tourism rose from US$4.7 billion to almost US$6 billion. (KOFICE, 2020b). Hallyu exports can be differentiated into two strands: (a) the cultural strand, consisting of export on broadcasted programs, music, movies, animations, games, comics and characters, and (b) the consumer goods and tourism strand, consisting of export on food products, cosmetic, clothing, accessories, electronics, mobile phones, cars, and tourism. In 2019, the revenue of Hallyu’s global cultural content exports doubled in just 3 years reaching US$6.3 billion (approximately 20% growth rate every year). The highest revenue were coming from games (US$4.7 billion) in comparison to music (US$533 million), broadcasting program (US$368 million) and movie (US$46 million). Meanwhile, export revenues from consumer goods and tourism reached US$5.9 billion in 2019. The biggest export revenue came from tourism (US$2.6 billion) followed by cosmetics (US$969 million), food production (US$771 million), and cars (US$610 million).


Indonesia sees a high growth and popularization of Hallyu (KOFICE, 2020b). South Korea's soft power, especially K-pop, has gained popularity amongst Indonesian youths because of social media. Indonesia ranked 2nd in 2020 as K-pop streamers through the Spotify platform (Rakhmat & Tarahita, 2020) and 1st in global K-pop tweeting (Chae, 2021). Indonesia's Twitter accounts dedicated to K-pop idols have around a million followers, thereby proving the obsession with and future lucrative potential of the K-pop industry (Whiteside, 2017). Indonesia also shows a strong willingness to spend and to pay for Hallyu content with its keenness to purchase the South Korean products of Hallyu (KOFICE, 2020b). With its demographic boom and a massive younger generation, Indonesia is a potential market. A 2020 censure reveals that the population of productive age in Indonesia (15-64 years old) reaches slightly over 70%, out of the total population of 270 million. Out of this number, around 80 million are under the age category of 15-34 years old (Ningsih, 2021). With the global boom of K-pop culture, there are more opportunities for South Korean companies in Indonesia’s high value-added industries and the digital economy, due to its established positive brand equity.


Within the state's economic narratives, Hallyu's consumer goods export to Indonesia is highly concentrated within the manufacturing industries. These preferred manufacturing industries sectors are in line with Indonesia’s priorities such as food and beverages, textile and apparel, automotive, electronics, and chemical. Both governments endorsed South Korean big business activities through joint partnerships with Indonesian businesses or state-owned enterprises (SOEs). Lotte has been penetrating the Indonesian food and beverages market. The giant company has raised revenue of US$9.4 billion and aiming to surpass the Indonesian-owned CT Corp hypermarket leader. It has opened its 47th store in 2019 and planned to double it by 2023 (KBS, 2019). In the automotive industry, an increasing investment comes from Hyundai Motor with its factory plant in Deltamas Industrial Complex going into operation in 2021 (Herh, 2020).


Meanwhile, Hallyu’s cultural export operates closely to an individual level. Based on YouTube views, Indonesia stands among the top 10 countries globally for K-pop consumption, with 9.9%, and is in the lead when comparing to other ASEAN members. Online or mobile platforms accounted for the highest percentages of Hallyu access (KOFICE, 2020a). YouTube remains the most used platform, both for drama or movie and music access (KOFICE, 2020b). Additionally, South Korea's export of film to Indonesia rose 273.9% just in a year, from less than US$0.2 million in 2018 to US$0.7 million in 2019. This is due to the ‘ripple effect’ of K-pop and the expansion of CGV’s multiplex cinema chain in Indonesia. Hallyu's widespread popularity works in tandem with the high number of internet users. This access to Hallyu content is primarily through mobile or online platforms, proving a trend of Indonesia's increasing digital savviness and its potential as a market for digital Hallyu-led industries.


Hallyu serves as the bridge linking South Korea’s image and consumer goods. In Indonesia's case, there is a positive correlation between Hallyu branding and Indonesian purchasing intention (Tjoe & Kim, 2016). South Korea’s strong brand equity influences Indonesia’s consumer behavior (Sawatzky, 2020), and this brand is projected in the digital economy as well. Within the context of e-commerce, Hallyu embodied the South Korean’s image that can attract Indonesian consumers towards small and medium enterprises (SMEs) products. Lee Sang-yun, deputy director handling Hallyu expos at Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA), expressed that “Hallyu marketing is a great help to smaller companies" in promoting their products (Kim, 2019).



D.Digital Economy


The digital economy fosters growth and productivity and supports inclusive development (Dahlman et al., 2016). Indonesia has put attention to its transition toward a knowledge economy as part of its development agenda (Shetty et al., 2014). President Jokowi’s pro-people diplomacy positions economic diplomacy into his foreign policy priority. Emphasizing digital diplomacy, Jokowi claimed Indonesia is amongst the world’s biggest digital economies and instructed that it must create new jobs (Jakarta Globe, 2018).


The Indonesian digital economy shows a potential contribution to the national economy. It contributed 4% to the total Indonesian GDP in 2020 and is predicted to increase eightfold in 2030 (Antara, 2021). With 49% yearly average growth since 2015, it is projected to reach US$130 billion by 2025 (Google et al., 2019). With a total population of up to 266.9 million, Indonesian internet users reach 196.7 million in 2019, indicating a high internet penetration (73.3%) (Eloksari, 2020). Fully individual internet coverage and penetration thus will exemplify the market of digital services in Indonesia. Indonesia's digital economy reveals that up to 80% of electronic transaction are done through the mobile platform, M-commerce, with direct to consumer service (ASEAN-Korea Centre, 2020). Furthermore, internet users’ access to e-commerce is increasing in frequencies reaching 30 billion in 2019 (Google et al., 2019). Within this prediction, e-commerce is argued to play a key role by contributing to the total Indonesian gross domestic product (GDP).


Responding to this opportunity, the Indonesian government adopts several approaches. First, Indonesia’s priority on e-commerce has been highlighted under Presidential Decree No 74/2017. The realization of Indonesia’s e-commerce potential was triggered by the successful performances of Indonesia’s start-up, Tokopedia, when it received its unicorn status in 2017. As an e-commerce platform, Tokopedia has estimated to have US$7 billion in its 2021 valuation and has contributed to 1% of Indonesia's economy in 2019 (Rahman, 2020). President Jokowi’s initiatives to nurture Indonesian start-ups highlight the creation of e-commerce enabling environments. This is done through simplified tax procedures as well as providing regulatory safety net in the digital finance sector to protect new enterprises from future shocks (Kim et al., 2020).


Second, amidst the 4IR and Indonesia's goal to be in the global top 10 economies by 2030, President Jokowi launched the Making Indonesia (MI) 4.0 policy5. This policy is crucial to digital economy and the promotion of local products in e-commerce (Margiansyah, 2020). Indonesia's economy heavily relies on SMEs. In 2018, there were 64 million SMEs which accounted for 99.9% of the total business population and employed more than 116 million people (OECD, 2020). Yet, Indonesian SMEs have been ‘left behind’, because up to 62% of workers in Indonesia are working at small or micro enterprises with low productivities. Empowering Indonesia’s SMEs through technologies thus becomes one of ten national priorities.


Third, President Jokowi reiterated the importance of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) (Cabinet Secretariat of The Republic of Indonesia, 2020). During the Indonesia Digital Economy Summit in November 2021, he further instructed that the digital economy will help to improve the prospect of SMEs. Undigitized SMEs have suffered amidst COVID-19, with 42% of offline SMEs stopped operating after the pandemic compared to 24% for online SMEs. This has caused a 2.9% constraint in Indonesian economic growth in the first quarter of 2020 (Rahman, 2020). Along with start-ups, entrepreneurial and social entrepreneurship, digital technology must encourage domestic production and improve sales of local products (ANTARA, 2020). One of the reasons leading to Tokopedia’s success is the integration with SMEs. Tokopedia works with Indonesian SMEs by connecting them with 90 million potential consumers that visit their platform every month (Rahman, 2020). In 2020, Tokopedia has 8.3 million SMEs on its platform with most of them being first time-entrepreneurs. In order to enjoy access to this online platform, internet infrastructure must be enacted.


President Jokowi’s vision is translated into the work of the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA). Adoption of economic diplomacy and the internationalization of new economic activities, based on digital technologies and innovation, become the focus. Bilaterally, this vision is reinforced through the Indonesian representatives' negotiations abroad. In particular, the Indonesian Embassy in Seoul responded to the plight by establishing a special desk within its office structure. The newly created creative economy and public diplomacy desk exemplified Indonesia's commitment to tap the commercial benefit of Indonesia's cultural creative products through e-commerce platform. It pushes for Indonesia’s SMEs and creative products to go global by supporting the entrance of the Indonesian Batik in Korean e-commerce market. The previous Ambassador of Indonesia to the Republic of Korea, His Excellency Umar Hadi, emphasized that “it is our hope that the entrance of Batik in the Korean online market would lead to wealth creation, not only for the two parties but also other related Batik’s SMEs" (Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia in Seoul, 2021). The pilot project was successfully achieved earlier in 2021 by the signing of an agreement between PT Wastra Cantik Indonesia (Batik Chic), an Indonesia creative SME, and Idus.com, a Korean digital market (Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia in Seoul, 2021). Furthermore, the Korean Cultural Centre in Indonesia has capitalized on Batik’s potential through a cultural collaboration and exchange on fashion runway “Hanbok and Batik” in October 2020 (Korean Cultural Center, 2021). Pursued further, these cultural exchanges can lead to the accentuation of the creative digital economy shared by both countries.





Hallyu cultural exports can be realized through the digital economy. Given the high acceptance of Hallyu and its products and the potential of Indonesia's e-commerce, there are more opportunities for Korean enterprises in Indonesia's digital economy. E-commerce continues to be a potential alternative entry that will be beneficial for both countries, as it links people and prosperity together. Especially, amidst the Covid-19 limitations, digital transactions provide even more convenience for transnational buyers and at the same time contribute to the national economy.


The innovative, creative small business start-ups should be the focus of cooperation between Indonesia and South Korea (Kim et al., 2020). E-commerce opens up the possibilities for Korean SMEs to take part in the Indonesian market. The Korea-Indonesia ICT and Content Business Partnership 2021 is one example supporting SMEs’ entry into overseas markets in the ICT and content industry, which is having difficulty in developing global marketing channels due to the prolonged COVID-19 situation (AP, 2021; Business Wire, 2021).


Hallyu dissemination mostly takes place digitally among Indonesian youth. The Hallyu platform is still dominated by Western platforms of YouTube, Netflix, Facebook, and Spotify. In Southeast Asia, Naver Corp gained its revenue from the K-pop live streaming service application, V Live, especially in Vietnam where it received US$27.4 million in the first 10 months in 2018 (Lee & Kim, 2018). This should be replicated in Indonesia which has a higher youth population and K-pop base fans with access to the internet.


The rise of Indonesia's internet economy prompted the need for cooperation on maturing the infrastructure. Limited physical infrastructure created the digital divide within Indonesian society. To support e-commerce, Korea can increase project participation through government engagement in the infrastructure project, guided by the expansion of the Co-Prosperity and Peace 2017 agreements. Furthermore, e-commerce transactions require secure cyberspace. The growing Indonesian cyberspace has yet been able to handle it. Korea’s world-class digital infrastructure can lend to this problem bilaterally or multilaterally, as it has advantages in the digital industry. South Korea is expected to play an active role in the area of the development of the digital infrastructure and in the promotion of innovation and adoption of enabling technologies and services (Kim et al., 2020).


As the nature of the digital economy is disruptive, up-skilling the digital literacy of labor forces in utilizing digital services is crucial for Indonesia. South Korea, as the world’s most innovative country, according to the Bloomberg Innovation Index 2021, has focused on investment in higher education and research and development. Indonesia can learn from South Korea’s best practices in developing its innovative environment.





Historically, Indonesia and South Korea experienced the Cold War rivalry that has shaped its foreign policy outlook. These experiences and the absence of historical tensions create neutrality where genuine friendships by both countries can be built. Both countries have emerged as middle power states with an increasing role on the international stage with membership in the Mexico-Indonesia-Korea-Turkey-Australia grouping (MIKTA)6 and Group of Twenty (G20)7. Indonesia's de facto leadership in ASEAN adds to its importance as a regional player (Emmers, 2014). South Korea’s economic ascension and Indonesia's potential population and market put both countries on possible cooperation, especially amidst President Moon’s NSP policy and President Jokowi’s economic diplomacy. These compatibilities help in gaining opportunities amidst the 4IR.


Indonesia and South Korea should focus on partnerships in the digital economy. Innovative and creative e-commerce potentials between the two countries prove to be a lucrative field. Indonesia’s high receptiveness to Hallyu products and the potential of the digital market provide an alternative for South Korean enterprises to integrate into Indonesian maket. Establishing partnerships in the combination of culture and e-commerce, not only will bring material benefits but will also create people-to-people exchanges and mutual understanding between the peoples of Indonesia and Korea.



Author’s Biography


Ms. Ratih Indraswari is of Indonesian nationality and is currently a doctoral candidate at Ewha Woman’s University majoring in Poltiical Science and International Relations. Her specialty is in ASEAN study, public diplomacy, and international relations. She also holds a master’s degree in International Relations and International Organizations from Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, The Netherlands and is currently an Assistant Professor under the International Relations Department at the Parahyangan University in Bandung, Indonesia.




인도네시아 국적의 Ratih Indraswari 는 현재 이화여자대학교 정치외교학과 박사과정생으로 주요 연구 분야는 아세안학, 공공 외교, 그리고 국제 관계입니다. 저자는 네덜란드 Rijksuniversiteit Groningen 에서 국제관계와 국제기구학 석사학위를 수여했으며, 인도네시아 Parahyangan University 국제관계 학부에서 조교수로 재직 중입니다.





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[ASEAN ISSUE #31] Bridging Divides to Build a Cohesive Community [CAPK Contribution #2] Examining National Character and Development Selected Southeast Asian Countries and South Korea