Southeast Asia crucial
South Korea and 10 members of Asean held a commemorative summit on Thursday and Friday. The meeting was hosted in Busan to celebrate the 25th anniversary of cooperative dialogue and partnership between Korea and Asean. Members looked back on the trajectory of the relationship and discussed steps to enhance cooperation. The summit took place as the region prepares to complete economic, political, security, social and cultural integration by the end of next year. Close ties with the region are becoming more and more important. Asean is South Korea’s key partner on issues in East Asia and the Korean Peninsula. It is deeply involved in security through the Asean Regional Forum and annual East Asia Summit. Actions for peace and cooperation in the region and the Korean Peninsula are not possible without the backing of Asean member countries. Korea and Asean both are strategically important to the United States and China. The close relationship between the two, therefore, can help ease conflicts in the region and surrounding areas.
Asean is a growing market in terms of both production and consumption. The region is South Korea’s second-largest trading partner and one of the biggest clients for construction orders. The area also is the third-largest investment target for Korean companies. When the Asean economic community is launched next year, it will become a single economy of $3 trillion annually with a population of 640 million. The area could become the new economic hotbed and help accelerate recovery in the global economy. Asean could be the next new frontier. It offers a great opportunity to realign our reliance on the Chinese economy. Moreover, Korean brands are well-regarded by consumers in Asean countries due to the wide popularity of Korean entertainers and pop culture. There could be no better business environment for Korean traders and exporters than Southeast Asia as Chinese and Japanese companies are not as competitive there.
Finally, Asean people are easy to connect with due to social and cultural similarities. Southeast Asia is one of Koreans’ favorite destinations, and 169,000 Southeast Asians are working in Korea, half the immigrant workforce in the country. There also are 60,000 Southeast Asians living here after getting married to Koreans. Special attention should be paid so Southeast Asian residents in Korea can play a bigger role in bringing the two areas closer together. We should pay more interest and attention to the issues of Southeast Asia.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 12, Page 34