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[세종논평 No.2019-10] The View from ASEAN: President Moon Jae-in's Visit to Southeast Asia
2019년03월29일  금요일
조회수 : 883
Hoo Chiew-Ping

 

The View from ASEAN: President Moon Jae-in’s Visit to Southeast Asia


Dr. Hoo Chiew-Ping

(전략국제관계학, 말레이시아 국립 대학교)

hoo@ukm.edu.my

 

 


Amidst President Moon Jae-in’s official visits to three Southeast Asian countries in March 2019, prospects of joining forces with selected Southeast Asian countries to assert stronger voice of the middle powers cannot come at a better time.

After being almost completely occupied by the Korean peace agenda in 2018, the Moon government is following up his promise to visit ASEAN member states in 2019. The first stop at Brunei is particularly interesting, as the last state visit to Brunei by a Korean President was 19 years ago by Kim Dae-jung.

Thus, President Moon’s visit is an important milestone marking Brunei-Korea’s 35th anniversary of diplomatic ties in 2019, coinciding with Brunei’s coordinator role in ASEAN-ROK Dialogue relations from 2018 until 2021. South Korea’s participation in many Brunei’s infrastructure projects is also notable, enhancing connectivity of Brunei Muara with Temburong across the Brunei Bay.


Amidst Japan’s longstanding infrastructure development presence in Southeast Asia and the surge of China’s infrastructure investment initiatives in recent years, Moon’s infrastructure diplomacy approach is certainly one of the outstanding features in his New Southern Policy (NSP). Success in Brunei can serve as an attractive model for other AMSs to explore Korean infrastructure development opportunities.


President Moon’s visit to Malaysia adopted a different approach, focusing on industrial cooperation. Moon has used the Korean automobile industry to appeal to Prime Minister Mahathir’s plan in further expanding and modernizing Malaysia’s national car manufacturing industry. While Mahathir’s plan generated domestic criticisms, a successful joint venture could certainly be beneficial for Malaysia’s growing population and in line with Malaysia’s industrialization strategy.

Malaysia wants to seize on the electronic and hybrid car trends, and top Korean car manufacturers can help Malaysia with technology transfer and investment. Renault Samsung provides an example of export-oriented auto manufacturer for Malaysia, which would encourage Malaysia to aim beyond fulfilling demands of domestic market.

While the Korea-Malaysia Business Forum in Kuala Lumpur received a 70 company-strong business delegation from Korea, there is still no Korea-Malaysia bilateral FTA. This is anticipated to be finalized by next year’s 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations. Both leaders have also reaffirmed an enhanced cooperation in cultural matters.


The NSP’s three main pillars of “people, prosperity, peace” were fully explored in Moon’s visit to Malaysia. On the “peace” pillar, President Moon appealed to Mahathir to ease sanctions on North Korea to facilitate the peace process, and continue to work within ASEAN to integrate North Korea into the international community. Though Mahathir did not respond directly (by replying he expects the further improvement of relations between the two Koreas) due to the sensitivity of the timing of ongoing trial of Kim Jong Nam assassination, it is expected that Malaysia will be able to make a more vocal support after the case is completely settled.


On Moon’s visit to Cambodia, economic cooperation again dominated the agenda. Though ROK-Cambodia economic ties have been greatly expanded especially through Korea’s overseas developmental aid (ODA), however, the trade imbalance has not served well for Cambodia. Thus, addressing the increase of Cambodia’s export to South Korea is one of the key issues for Korea-Cambodia ties.


South Korea is finally taking substantive steps in elevating ASEAN’s status in South Korea’s foreign policy, and these early initiatives are in the right direction. To further enhance this prospect, South Korea needs to study more carefully each ASEAN member states’ economic plan together with their political developments. The government needs to further strengthen academic and think tank exchanges between Korea and Southeast Asian nations and utilize the available expertise from both sides.


The NSP is often regarded as heavily economic-focused, rather than a comprehensive policy that includes the “people” and “peace” components. Hence, the Moon government should also consider how to engage ASEAN platforms and sub-regional efforts more effectively. One such example is Mekong-Korea cooperation (where attention can be given to Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam), not only in engineering partnership but also joint scientific collaboration on offsetting the environmental consequences of the Mekong river basin and dam development. The other area of mutual interest is cyber security, in which both sides can work through the ASEAN Defence Minister's Meeting (ADMM)-Plus and ASEAN Plus Three.


The potential for further deepening of Korea-ASEAN exchanges is bountiful. The wide acceptance of the Korean wave (hallyu) should serve as a catalyst to realizing South Korea’s soft power, including opening South Korean department store franchise such as Shinsegae in industrialized countries (Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia) where
the influx of tourists from these countries into South Korea due to enhanced popularity of South Korean culture.


There is still more room for maturing East Asian economic and financial institutionalism that can help offset risks of future financial crises. It’s time for South Korea to consider other bold initiatives to further integrate Northeast and Southeast Asian regionalism, while remaining in the driver’s seat of the peace process on the Korean Peninsula. Pivot to Southeast Asia would allow South Korea to diversify its policy options and highlight its middle power activism in converging greater East Asian interest.