Korea’s obligation to Asean

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Korea’s obligation to Asean

Korea and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations wrapped up the Korea-Asean Commemorative Summit Tuesday, celebrating 20 years of diplomatic ties after having issued a joint statement on North Korea’s nuclear tests.

During the summit, the leaders agreed to increase cooperation and understanding in political and defense arenas, increase social and cultural exchanges and work together on global issues.

Korea and Asean on Tuesday signed a free trade agreement on investment, a process that had dragged on for four years.

When the investment deal comes into effect, combined with previously ratified Korea-Asean FTAs for merchandise and services, bilateral trade and investment between Korea and Asean is expected to increase.

The leaders agreed upon an ambitious goal - they will try to increase the trade volume between Korea and Asean member nations from $90 billion last year to $150 billion by 2015.

China and Japan have both waged separate battles to pull Asean to their sides. Korea is a relatively new player in this game and its domestic resources are limited.

During the summit, the government pledged to increase official development assistance to Asean to around $400 million by 2015, in addition to supporting Southeast Asian nations with $200 million for the next five years through the East Asia Climate Partnership, announced last year at the G-8 summit.

But the total amount of the funds still does not measure up to what Japan and China have invested.

China gave $14.8 billion to Asean between 2002 and 2007. Japan recently announced an “Asia-wide growth strategy” under which it plans to pour $20 billion into official development assistance and $5 billion into projects focused on the environment.

In terms of scale, Korea can’t compete. The only way is to approach the Asean countries as neighbors.

It is in this light that President Lee Myung-bak’s rigorous efforts - even roasting kebabs for the Asean leaders himself - can be understood.

The 40-point statement requires the related countries to keep their promises or it will be nothing more than a piece of paper.

If execution of the joint statement falls behind other diplomatic issues, President Lee will not be able to avoid the criticism that the summit was held just for show.

Hopefully, the government understands that the diplomatic principles underlying the Korea-Asean FTAs can only be fulfilled when there is trust between Korea and the Asean member nations.
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