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S Korea asserts role in SE Asia

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South Korean President Moon Jae-in inspects the guard of honor during a welcoming ceremony in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on March 13, 2019. Moon is on a three-day state visit to Malaysia. Xinhua/Chong Voon Chung

President Moon Jae-in is paying a state visit to Cambodia today after his trip to Brunei and Malaysia.

The visit reflects renewed interest and effort by South Korea to strategically engage and economically connect with Southeast Asian countries. Mr Moon has pledged to visit all ten Asean member countries before his five-year term ends in 2022. South Korea will host a special South Korea-Asean Summit later this year to commemorate the 30th anniversary of establishing their dialogue partnership.

South Korea has introduced “New Southern Policy” with the emphasis on “3P community”, which stands for a community of People, Prosperity and Peace. The people-centered values stipulated in the Asean Constitution and the basic principles espoused by the current administration, which emphasizes that “people are first”, are in line with the New Southern Policy in its pursuit of a people-centered community.

South Korea has envisaged to proactively engage Asean and India under the guidance of “people-centered community” with a focus on economic interest. South Korea has faced economic difficulties over the past few years; it received economic pressures from China in 2016 over the controversial deployment of THADD and currently it has difficulties exporting products to the United States due to protectionist policy under the “America First”.

The bilateral trade volume between South Korea and Asean reached $160 billion in 2018. Both sides aim to achieve $200 billion by 2020. South Korea is also an important investment partner of Asean, with an investment capital of more than 5 billion in 2016.

As a country coordinator from 2015 to 2018, Cambodia had played significant role in advancing bilateral partnership between Asean and South Korea. Moreover, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen proposed upgrading the Mekong-Korea cooperation mechanism to a summit level. The first summit between South Korea and the Mekong countries will take place from next year.

Cambodia welcomes a proactive role of South Korea in the Mekong region and Asean. South Korea could also help build infrastructure in the region, especially port construction, digital infrastructure and smart city development. Energy sector, information technology and human resource development are other key areas that South Korea could invest in Southeast Asia.

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