South Korea sets sights on Southeast Asia
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South Korea sets sights on Southeast Asia

SOUTH KOREA’s President Moon Jae-in has arrived back in Seoul, after an eight-day trip to Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines during which he unveiled a new policy aimed at deepening ties with the region.

The New Southern Policy will aim to boost South Korea’s trade, cultural and diplomatic ties with the ten members of the Asean grouping, which is collectively home to half a billion people and represents the fourth largest economy in Asia.

“Before anything else, I myself will visit all 10 Asean countries during my presidency to share our deep friendship,” Moon said during a meeting with 500 business leaders from across Asean during the Asean-South Korea summit on Monday.

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Asean delegates, world leaders and officials during the opening ceremony of the 31st Asean Summit in Manila on Nov 13, 2017. Source: Reuters/Noel Celis/Pool

“We must first be friends before we can share a future. To this end, we will increase exchanges between people of all levels, including businesspeople and students, in addition to exchanges between heads of state and governments,” he said.

A recent year-long diplomatic standoff between Seoul and Beijing over the deployment of a US anti-missile system has exposed the dependence of Korean companies on Chinese customers and likely exacerbated Seoul’s urgency to diversify ties.

SEE ALSO: Asean at 50: Region marches towards peace and development, away from human rights

South Korea’s presidential Blue House has said the policy will mirror Moon’s New Northern Policy aimed at expanding cooperation with China, Japan, Russia, and Mongolia. He has said South Korea will aim to boost its annual trade with Asean countries to US$200 billion by 2020.

“Bringing South Korea’s relationship with Asean to the level of its relationship with the four major powers around the Korean Peninsula is my goal,” said Moon during a state visit with his Indonesian counterpart Joko Widodo, as quoted by the Korean news agency Yonhap.

Both leaders said the relationship between the countries had been redefined as a “Special Strategic Partnership”. To Indonesia, a country where Koreans represent the largest expatriate community, Moon was accompanied by a delegation of more than 200 business leaders.

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Jokowi (second right), his wife Iriana Widodo (right), Moon (second left) and his wife Kim Jung-Sook pose on the veranda of the Bogor palace in Bogor, Indonesia, on Nov 9, 2017. Source: Reuters/Adek Berry/Pool

“Korean diplomacy in Asia has been more towards Japan, China and Russia. But I see that it should expand to new horizons,” Moon told a business forum in Jakarta.

Along with leaders of Asean and five other countries, Moon joined calls to conclude negotiations on a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. A spokesperson for the presidential office said it would be one of the largest regional free trade agreements ever signed, reported Yonhap.

SEE ALSO: Trump sparks protests as world leaders gather for Asean summit in Manila

The president also emphasised the need for Asean to pressure North Korea into curbing its nuclear ambitions.

Besides corporate and diplomatic muscle, Korea’s soft power has also grown across Southeast Asia, with K-Pop and other aspects of Korean popular culture enjoying huge popularity.

Additional reporting by Reuters