ASEAN-Korea Centre's Secretary-General Lee Hyuk. — Photo courtesy of the ASEAN-Korea Centre
On the threshold of the ASEAN Summit and ASEAN-RoK Summit held within the 37th ASEAN Summit, Vietnam News Agency correspondents in Seoul interviewed ASEAN Korea Centre (AKC) Secretary-General Lee Hyuk about the prospects of ASEAN-RoK ties in the future and the role of Việt Nam in its chairmanship year.
What is your assessment of Việt Nam's role in ASEAN, and especially as ASEAN Chair this year?
This year Việt Nam is not only assuming the rotating chairmanship of ASEAN but is also celebrating the 25th anniversary of its accession to ASEAN. Over the quarter-century, Việt Nam has not only become an integral part of ASEAN, but today is one of the stronger growth engines of the ASEAN Economic Community contributing to regional prosperity.
Even before the outbreak of the coronavirus, Việt Nam’s chairmanship was faced with many challenges – the slowdown in the global economy, the rising tension between US and China in the region, and the growing frequency of natural disasters due to climate change, to name a few.
When COVID-19 broke out, Việt Nam had to face even greater hardship as it carried out its ASEAN chairmanship.
However, under the theme 'cohesive and responsive' – which was not only very timely but also relevant to the current pandemic – Việt Nam demonstrated excellent leadership, not only in successfully containing the spread of the virus at home but also in uniting the ASEAN member states together for joint action.
Through numerous online video conferences at both the summit and ministerial levels, Việt Nam was able to bring the region together to share information on COVID-19, to support affected areas with medical equipment, to facilitate the movement of essential peoples, and to commit to open and free trade and minimise the effects of supply chain disruptions.
As a matter of fact, on November 15, on the occasion of the ASEAN-related summits, the leaders of 15 countries in the region (the 10 ASEAN nations, the Republic of Korea, Japan, China, Australia and New Zealand) will sign the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) which is expected to significantly boost trade in the region in the wake of COVID-19.
How do you view the prospects of ASEAN-ROK ties in the future?
After celebrating the 30th anniversary of ASEAN-RoK ties last year during the Commemorative Summit, ASEAN and the RoK were ready to embark on a year of heightened partnership this year. Unfortunately, the sudden outbreak and subsequent global spread of COVID19 may put collaborative projects and exchanges on hold.
However, ASEAN and the RoK took the opportunity to strengthen ties in new areas – in addition to shoring up joint efforts in responding to the pandemic, ASEAN and the RoK set up a regular channel of communication among the health agencies for increased coordination. The RoK contributed US$1 million to ASEAN’s COVID-19 Response Fund and provided humanitarian support to affected communities.
In particular, Việt Nam and the RoK, both having shown early success in containing the spread of the virus, took leadership in creating positive momentum for ASEAN-RoKcooperation. Over the past months, Việt Nam has helped 5,000 Korean businessmen enter Việt Nam and the two countries are currently working on a fast-track arrangement to further facilitate the movement of essential peoples. Việt Nam would be the third ASEAN member to do so following Indonesia and Singapore.
Indeed, based on past experiences of having turned crises into opportunities (such as during the 1997 Asian financial crisis), ASEAN and the RoK are expected to emerge stronger from the current difficulties to forge a robust partnership for the future. As an important trade and investment partners (ASEAN is the RoK's second-largest, and the RoK is ASEAN’s fifth-largest trading partner), the two regions will be indispensable to each other in the post-COVID19 economic recovery efforts. The strategic importance of ASEAN to the RoK and the RoK to ASEAN will also grow as the region seeks to strengthen multilateralism and ASEAN centrality in the midst of rising tensions between the US and China.
It is against this backdrop that the RoK government is launching the 'New Southern Policy Plus', on the occasion of the ASEAN-RoK Summit that will be celebrating the 10th anniversary of the ASEAN-Korea Strategic Partnership. The upgraded policy is expected to further elevate, expand and deepen mutually beneficial partnership in a reflection of the changing geopolitical and economic landscape of the region. — VNS