Korea and ASEAN: Shared Interests and Points for Future Cooperation
Korea and ASEAN: Shared Interests and Points for Future Cooperation
date posted: 2011-09-16 12:45:22 Michelle Camille Correa
Korean experts in the fields of international relations, economics, politics and the academe shared their thoughts on Korea and ASEAN’s shared interests and points for future cooperation during the 12th Korea Forum held on August 26, 2011 at the Case Study Room of the Social Sciences Building, Ateneo de Manila University.
The forum was organized by the Ateneo Center for Asian Studies in cooperation with the Korean Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (KISEAS) and Southeast Asian Studies Regional Exchange Program.
In his opening remarks, School of Social Sciences Dean Jose M. Cruz, S.J. underscored the importance of examining Korea and ASEAN’s “shared strategic prospects” in light of increasing trade volume and investment flows between the two. The forum sought to explore the questions “How do Koreans perceive ASEAN, China and the Philippines?” and “What are the mindsets that will foster future partnership?”
His Excellency Lee Hye Min, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Embassy of the Republic of South Korea, meanwhile, expressed optimism for the “fruitful discussions" that the forum will generate.
Strategy and Synergy Dr. Jaehyon Lee, visiting professor at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security, stressed the need for “a shared assessment of situation and strategy” in his paper entitled “Korea as Strategic Partner of ASEAN: Making a Strategic Consensus”. This is in light of a rising China and US re-engagement in East Asia in the political and democratic front, which gives rise to a “superpower competition” and puts the region in a place of “strategic uncertainty.”
Dr. Lee thus suggests a strategy in the political-security field that will “enhance and level-up cooperative relations between Korea and ASEAN and that would at the same time enable Korea and ASEAN to cope with the strategic uncertainty”.
“If the competition continues and deepens or the superpowers make a strategic compromise, the interests of regional small and medium countries could be potentially in danger. These countries, then, have to ponder upon how to safeguard their interests and autonomy in this very uncertain environment,” he said.
“ASEAN-Korea, when they coordinate their action under a common strategic vision, would have substantial leverage over superpower competition. With this common strategic stance, ASEAN and Korea can have substantial influence on any emerging regional order or even can shape the new regional order emerging after the superpower rivalry,” he continued.
Meanwhile, Dr. Intaek Han of the Jeju Peace Institute explored South Korea’s response to a rising China and its implication for ASEAN countries in his paper “The Rise of China and South Korea’s Response”. Among balancing, bandwagoning and hedging—the three categories of responses to a rising China identified by International Relations scholars—Dr. Han said that “South Korea has been actively ‘bandwagoning’ in its economic relations with China, whereas it has been ‘hedging’, if not outright ‘balancing’ against China in its diplomatic and military relations with China.”
That is, China is now South Korea’s largest trading partner. However, Dr. Han observed that “While South Korean economy is becoming heavily and increasingly dependent on the Chinese economy, South Korea has been strengthening its diplomatic and security cooperation with the United States nearly simultaneously.” This cooperation with the US is to “to deter a nuclear North Korea” and to “stay autonomous from Chinese influence despite its growing economic dependence on China”, according to Dr. Han.
As for the implication of South Korea’s response to ASEAN countries, Dr. Han has this to say: “Each ASEAN country should find a response that serves its interest best and take South Korea’s ‘dual’ response with a grain of salt.”
Free trade Free trade is an area where Korea and ASEAN can build stronger partnerships. According to Dr. Bun Soon Park of the Samsung Economic Research Institute, ASEAN is Korea’s second most important trade partner after China, with Korea’s trade with ASEAN reaching US 97.3 bn$ in the year 2010.
In the area of Free Trade Agreement (FTA), Dr. Park said that agreements on trade in goods came into effect in November 2008, followed by service agreement in May 2009, and investment agreement in September 2009. “Korea-ASEAN FTA is the biggest FTA in terms of market size,” he said.
Dr. Park identified two challenges in the Korea-ASEAN FTA. First is in terms of increasing utilization rates and in actively implementing the FTA. The second challenge is in terms of widening trade deficits. “Those nations with chronic trade deficits experience difficulties in developing manufacturing industries. Even if trade creation through the Korea-ASEAN FTA leads to an increase in national welfare, the widening trade deficits will be a major obstacle in speeding up the process of tariff elimination. Under such circumstances, Korea’s exports to less developed countries cannot increase in the long run,” he said.
In order to utilize the Korea-ASEAN FTA effectively, Dr. Park recommended for Korea to expand trade opportunities. “Korea has to pay more attention to the trade deficits of ASEAN’s less developed countries. Korea needs to increase imports from those countries with large trade deficits,” he said.
He also recommended for ASEAN to encourage Korean firms to invest by improving the business environment: “Once, ASEAN was a very important investment destination for Korean companies. However, the level of FDI inflow is not what it used to be, particularly since the Asian Economic Crisis, and after China’s entry into the WTO which caused MNCs to rush into China rather than the ASEAN.”
His other recommendations for ASEAN include attracting manufacturing investment and pursuing industrial division of labor with China where ASEAN can “develop the parts and components industry where Korea and ASEAN’s cooperation can help each other.”
For Korea, Dr. Park recommended giving ASEAN development assistance to ASEAN’s export capabilities by aiding SME development, human resources development and IT development. “Korea is much smaller than Japan and China in terms of its economic size, and Japan and China are competing with each other to provide the ODA to ASEAN. Therefore, Korea should find a unique way of assisting ASEAN’s development,” he said.
Meanwhile, Dr. Inkyo Cheong of the Department of Economics at Inha University gave an overview of FTA policy and lessons learned. He echoed Dr. Park’s assessment of low FTA utilization rates. “Korean companies rarely utilize ASEAN-Korea FTA in exporting goods to ASEAN countries. Utilization rates are ranging from 4% to 14%,” he said.
He attributed this to the tariff concession in the ASEAN-Korea FTA that is currently being implemented, which he described as “narrowly defined” thereby “taking a long time for the elimination of tariffs.”
Lessons learned from Korea’s FTA experience include the importance of the political environment in promoting FTAs; establishing quality of FTAs in market access, services, investment, trade rules and other through bilateral FTAs with individual ASEAN countries; including World Trade Organization elements to FTAs to prevent overlapping; and building domestic infrastructure for FTA implementation.
Korea in the eyes of Manila “History teaches us that the expansion of interdependent relations not only propels mutual benefits but also produces functionally positive outcomes. From this perspective, the survey is a meaningful initiative to develop cooperative relations between Korea and Southeast Asian countries in pursuit of mutual interests,” said Dr. Dong Yeob Kim of Pusan University of Foreign Studies regarding his study titled “Filipino Perceptions of Korea: A Survey Result in Metro Manila”.
The study, which surveyed five cities in Metro Manila in 2009, sought to find out the perceptions of Filipinos on diverse aspects of Korea.
Dr. Kim deemed the results a “good basis for future cooperation.” Survey results showed that Filipinos, especially female respondents, generally viewed Korea favorably. Positive perceptions were especially seen on both higher income level respondents and younger age groups.
According to Dr. Kim, a reason why female respondents had a more favorable perception of Korea compared to males is because of the effects of Korean popular culture such as the TV drama. Television was found to be the medium by which majority learned about Korea, especially for lower income level respondents.
Other sources of information about Korea came from acquaintances, school, newspapers and magazines for higher income level respondents. Those in their 10s and 20s used the internet to get information on Korea.
Despite the overall positive perception of Korea, the study received a high number of ‘neutral’ answers, which pointed to possible areas for improvement in relations between the Philippines and Korea. “It implies that many Filipinos have no specific perception of Korea. Koreans need to attract these Filipinos to have a positive perception of Korea,” he said.
As for Korea’s higher positive perception among low age-groups, Dr. Kim expressed hope that this will lead to stronger views of Korea in the future. “Higher positive perception among low age-groups is a positive sign for the future, but Koreans need to analyze the bases and find a means to sustain the tendency,” he said.
The forum ended with a few words from Dr. Hong Koo Kim, director-general of KISEAS and professor at Pusan University of Foreign Studies. “I hope that today’s forum will contribute to a mutual understanding between Korea and ASEAN,” he said.
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