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[KH Biz Forum] S. Korea holds forte in ASEAN partnership

Economic power minus hegemonic ambition makes Seoul attractive long-term partner for ASEAN

While global investors have been flocking to the lucrative Southeast Asian market in search of sustainable growth opportunities, South Korea has an upper hand in forming partnerships with the countries. It is a rare economic power that shows no sign of hegemonic ambitions, according to an Association of Southeast Asian Nations economic policy expert.


Kwak Sung-il, director general of KIEP's Southern Policy Department, speaks at the Korea Herald Biz Forum on Tuesday. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
Kwak Sung-il, director general of KIEP's Southern Policy Department, speaks at the Korea Herald Biz Forum on Tuesday. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

“The New Southern Policy does not mean that (South Korea) is to replace its conventional strategic partners with emerging states,” Kwak Sung-il, director general for New Southern Policy Department at Korea Institute for International Economic Policy, said at the Korea Herald Biz Forum.

“Instead, it offers Korea a chance to reach out to regional partners and form an economic community of middle powers, which will in turn increase its bargaining power with the United States and China, while suggesting a mutual prosperity road map for ASEAN.”

The New Southern Policy is especially marked for its renewed approach toward trade partners, according to the senior researcher.

“Under this new paradigm, both South Korea and ASEAN states may expand their economic territories, instead of weighing gains and losses within the conventional limits,” said Kwak.

He especially underlined Seoul’s unique position in the geopolitically intense East Asian region, citing its economic leverage, recent investment amount into ASEAN and lack of hegemonic ambition -- compared to neighboring China and Japan.

“Amid fluctuating global and regional situations, South Korea is a rare player that may perform the role of diplomatic balancer and lay the ground for peaceful cooperation and sustainable growth,” he said.

Kwak also said the ongoing US-China trade tension is not necessarily just a crisis, but a possible opportunity for Korea and ASEAN.

“While the two global powers lock horns over establishing a new economic order, Korea and ASEAN may find a new growth engine and seek momentum for further growth.”

By Bae Hyun-jung (tellme@heraldcorp.com)
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