Guest Column

Busan Summit to Reinforce Partnership Between the ROK and ASEAN

By Lee Sang-hwa  18 November 2019

Leaders of ASEAN countries will gather in Busan, Republic of Korea (ROK), next week. This upcoming 2019 ASEAN-ROK Commemorative Summit is special in many aspects.

This summit will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the special bond between ASEAN and Korea. Indeed, what ASEAN and Korea have achieved together in just one generation is truly remarkable. Compared to 30 years ago, trade volume has registered a more than twentyfold increase. Now ASEAN is the second-largest trade partner of Korea. More importantly, people-to-people exchanges have soared 30 times. You can feel the pulse of the dynamic K-wave at every corner of the ASEAN region. The Busan summit is designed to bring more of ASEAN to Korea, and more of Korea to ASEAN. The Korea-ASEAN Train event in October was the epitome of such efforts.

The Busan summit will offer an opportunity to take stock of what we have done together and look forward to what we can further do in a mutually beneficial manner. The leaders will draw a common blueprint for co-prosperity between the two regions in the coming 30 years. In doing so, building the future we want and working together for a win-win partnership should serve as our polestar. And this is the tenet of the New Southern Policy, the flagship initiative of President Moon Jae-in. Such a win-win partnership will be prominently featured at the event in Busan to commemorate Korea’s decades-long dedication to development cooperation. Achieving sustainable development is a daunting challenge. Our challenge is to connect the dots among all the relevant challenges—climate change, energy security, food security, water security, infectious and non-communicable diseases, gender empowerment, and more. As all these issues are interconnected, we must look at them in a comprehensive, integrated way. More importantly, development cooperation should be conducted in a way carefully tailored to the specific circumstances and needs of a recipient. For our part, we strongly believe that a country that has achieved growth ahead of others must not kick the ladder away while others are following in its footsteps.

President Moon has visited all ASEAN countries, including Myanmar in September this year. From his earliest days in office, President Moon promised to visit each and every ASEAN partner before the end of his term, and he has honored his pledge. Putting more focus on ASEAN is based on our recognition that ASEAN is well placed to deal with an array of challenges confronting our two regions. As we have an oversupply of problems and a deficit of solutions, our government renews its commitment to building a stronger partnership with ASEAN as a natural partner. As President Moon’s term passes the mid-point, the upcoming Busan summit will mark a culmination in our New Southern Policy. Held at such a critical juncture, the Busan summit will also serve as a curtain-raiser for the New Southern Policy 2.0. With the blueprint and roadmaps the leaders will craft together, Korea is firmly committed to delivering more and better results with our ASEAN partners.

What makes this Busan summit more special is, for the first time, the Korean government elevates the partnership between Korea and Mekong countries to the highest level. Most Mekong countries are in times of transition. And, times of transition are times of profound opportunity, let alone challenges. Therefore, it is also time for building a great partnership. As such, the decision we make in this period will make an impact for generations to come.

This Korea-Mekong summit is particularly meaningful to Myanmar. During President Moon’s state visit in September, he eloquently elaborated his vision for partnership between the two countries, which will mark the 45th anniversary of diplomatic ties in 2020. He assured that Korea will stand firmly by Myanmar in its journey towards “a miracle on the Irrawaddy River”. This is not an overstatement. As the president of a country that achieved the miracle on the Han River, President Moon saw the immense potential that Myanmar holds, with its amazing human and natural resources, including a population of more than 50 million people, more than half of whom are under the age of 30. It is no wonder that an increasing number of Korean businessmen and entrepreneurs have come to see Myanmar as the last frontier market in the region. Myanmar and Korea have a lot in common, historically and emotionally. As such, our two countries are well positioned to understand each other. The peace process is a case in point. As Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s State Counselor, stated in her press conference during President Moon’s visit, it is our wish that the remarkable achievements on the Korean peninsula in recent years will inspire noble endeavors towards sustainable and permanent peace in Myanmar.

As we will celebrate 30 years of successful partnership and, more importantly, the next generation blessed with more blooming prosperity and solid peace, let our passion for peace and compassion for each other be our guiding principles.

Lee Sang-hwa is ambassador of the Republic of Korea.