Korea-Asean cooperative relations: Towards a people-centred community

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LETTER | I offer my heartfelt congratulations on the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean). I find myself eager with great anticipation for my first meeting with Asean leaders.

To the Republic of Korea (hereafter ‘Korea’), Asean is a very special and valuable friend. Last year alone, as many as six million Koreans visited Asean member states. Approximately 500,000 expats from Asean live in Korea, while roughly 300,000 Koreans are living in Asean countries.

As such, Korea-Asean ties are more than just bilateral relations between countries: our relationship is closely linked and intertwined with the lives of so many ‘people’.

I understand Asean strives to be a ‘people-centred, people-oriented community’ that ‘seeks to build a caring and sharing society which is inclusive and where the well-being, livelihood and welfare of the peoples are enhanced’.

“People first” has been my longstanding political philosophy as well, and it is a vision in line with the spirit of the ‘candlelight revolution’ that lit and heated up the winter in Korea a year ago. Korea and Asean both share a common philosophy that values people, and that common value also serves as a milestone for the path Korea and Asean will take together.

Since 2010, Korea and Asean have made significant achievements together as ‘strategic partners’. However, Korea-Asean cooperation has so far not been fully extended but instead focused mainly on government-led collaboration in political, security and economic affairs.

Above all, I intend to help advance Korea-Asean relations while placing a high priority on the ‘people’ - both Koreans and the people of Asean. My vision is to create, in cooperation with Asean, a ‘peace-loving, people-centred community where all members are better off together’.

Firstly, to realise this vision, I will pursue “people-centred diplomacy”.

From now on, the cooperation between Korea and Asean will be developed in a way that respects public opinion among both peoples, enjoys public support and, furthermore, invites hands-on participation by the people from both sides.

To this end, we have designated this year, which marks Asean’s 50th anniversary, as “Korea-Asean Cultural Exchange Year,” and organised cultural events and people-to-people exchanges.

Asean Cultural House

Last September, the Asean Culture House (ACH) opened in Korea's southern port city of Busan. The ACH is the first of its kind to have been opened in an Asean dialogue partner country and is expected to serve as a hub for cultural and people-to-people exchanges between Korea and Asean. For its part, the Korean government will spare no effort to expand these exchanges, especially among the young people who will lead Korea-Asean relations in the future.

Secondly, I will endeavour to further promote our ‘mutual prosperity’ that benefits both sides. To ensure the sustainability of people-centred cooperation, all parties must grow and develop together, at both the national and individual levels. Setting a structure for mutual prosperity requires the lowering of regional and transnational barriers to facilitate the flow of goods and promote people-to-people interactions.

To that end, Korea will actively support the ‘Master Plan on Asean Connectivity 2025 (MPAC 2025)’ and ‘Work Plan III of the Initiative for Asean Integration’. We will accelerate the pace of negotiations of the Korea-Asean FTA for further liberalisation to pave the way for freer and more inclusive growth in the region.

Thirdly, we should work to build a ‘peaceful community’ in which people are safe. In Asia, we all are facing North Korean nuclear and missile threats as well as non-conventional security threats, including terrorism, violent extremism and cyber attacks.

The Korean government will strive to ensure that both Koreans and the people of Asean are able to lead happy and safe lives. The Korean government will cooperate with each Asean member state, at both bilateral and multilateral levels, to rise to the challenges and achieve this ambitious vision.

Korea is now preparing for yet another “heated-up” winter - the PyeongChang Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games will be held in February next year. Our preparations are focused on ensuring these games serve to deliver a message of reconciliation, peace, mutual understanding and cooperation throughout the world.

I look forward to seeing many people from Asean member states taking part in the upcoming winter festival in PyeongChang.

MOON JAE-IN is the President of the Republic of Korea.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.


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