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[Contribution] ASEAN and Korea on road to sustainable and equal partnership

By Lee Hyun-joo

Published : Aug. 8, 2023 - 11:32

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Secretary General Kim Hae-yong of the ASEAN-Korea Center delivers his opening remarks during the 2023 ASEAN-Korea Youth Network Workshop. ASEAN-Korea Center Secretary General Kim Hae-yong of the ASEAN-Korea Center delivers his opening remarks during the 2023 ASEAN-Korea Youth Network Workshop. ASEAN-Korea Center

By Kim Hae-yong, secretary general of the ASEAN-Korea Center

​Every August 8th, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations celebrates ASEAN Day in commemoration of its founding in 1967. While the celebration lends ASEAN’s collective effort to consolidate the region’s unity, it is also an opportune time to reflect on how ASEAN and Korea have become indispensable partners. Amid the multifaceted challenges brought about by the regional dynamics, the significance of the ASEAN-Korea partnership continues to grow, with remarkable achievements on almost every front over the past three decades.

As such, ASEAN and Korea are gearing up to bring their partnership to new heights. The unveiling of the Korea-ASEAN Solidarity Initiative in November 2022 demonstrated the Korean government’s strong will to further enhance its partnership with ASEAN. As part of this initiative, the Korean government also proposed to level up the "strategic partnership" to a "comprehensive strategic partnership" with ASEAN in 2024, aligning with the celebration of the 35th anniversary of ASEAN-Korea dialogue relations.

However, to take the ASEAN-Korea partnership to the next level, both ASEAN and Korea should move beyond mere political discourses and elevate their relations into a more “sustainable” and “equal” one, on which the ASEAN-Korea Center has placed much of its strategic emphasis.

First, ASEAN and Korea can bolster sustainable and mutually beneficial economic cooperation by embracing emerging business environments and practices. Going through the COVID-19 pandemic, much emphasis has been put on sustainable and responsible investment at the global level. And ASEAN was not an exception. Although each ASEAN member state has been incorporating its own initiatives to incentivize sustainable and resilient development into policy frameworks, minimal analysis or literature review has been done for all 10 ASEAN countries.

Against this backdrop, the AKC launched the ASEAN-Korea ESG Cooperation Program to summarize ESG policies and best practices in both ASEAN and Korea, the results of which would be published by the end of this year. The deliverable is expected to help Korean companies interested in entering the ASEAN market, as well as ASEAN companies trying to expand into other ASEAN countries, thereby contributing to the consolidation of business cooperation between the two sides.

In addition, recognizing the growing interests of ASEAN and Korea and demand for new business opportunities in cleaner and more sustainable transportation, the AKC also organized the 6th ASEAN-Korea Electric Vehicle Forum to introduce the EV policies of ASEAN and Korea, as well as business opportunities around the industry. This allowed interested investors and companies to take advantage of relevant policies and opportunities presented during the Forum.

Secondly, in the long run, ASEAN and Korea should lay out a firm foundation for equal partnership. According to the Survey on Mutual Perceptions of ASEAN and Korean Youths conducted by the AKC in 2021 and 2022, youths of ASEAN and Korea view each other positively and have high expectations for future cooperation between the two regions. However, the Survey also identified several challenges, such as an asymmetry in accessing information, a lack of understanding regarding ongoing ASEAN-Korea cooperation, and a preference for short-term exchange opportunities, rather than long-term stay.

Acknowledging the youth as a building block of the ASEAN-Korea partnership, the AKC has made significant efforts to foster better mutual understanding of the youth. As part of this effort, the ASEAN-Korea Youth Network Workshop was recently resumed in July after three years of the pandemic. Under the theme of “Youth Shaping the Future: Building Enhanced Perceptions among Youths and Innovating Changes in Tourism,” this 9-day Workshop brought 48 youths from 10 AMS and Korea together in Korea and Vietnam. Through various activities, such as lectures, site visits, team missions, and cultural exchange, the Workshop enabled participants to not only understand the history and cultures of ASEAN and Korea but also forge a network and friendship based on mutual understanding.

Lastly, culture should be seen as a powerful vehicle that connects the peoples of ASEAN and Korea, deepening understanding of each other. Last month, the AKC participated in the 4th World Cultural Industry Forum in Daegu, Korea, under the theme of “Creative Economy and Sustainability in the Global Music and Entertainment Industry,” and organized an ASEAN-Korea Special Session. Prominent influencers and industry professionals from AMS were invited to share their experiences and discuss ways to create synergies between the Korean Wave and the ASEAN Wave. It was truly remarkable to witness the profound impact of the Korean Wave in the ASEAN region.

Thanks to robust cross-regional engagements, the global popularity of the Korean Wave has gone beyond a superficial level of interest and curiosity in Korean cultural content. Instead, it has blossomed into a dynamic global phenomenon, offering boundless opportunities for creative businesses and cultural exchanges.

In parallel, ASEAN’s rich and diverse culture is also gradually catching on in Korea, with its influence being observed everywhere, from food and beverages to multicultural families, students and workers from diverse backgrounds, including members of K-pop idol groups. The surge of interest and engagement with ASEAN culture has contributed to fostering more open and multifaceted perspectives among Korean people.

As the saying goes, “if you want to go fast, go alone; If you want to go far, go together.” While ASEAN and Korea achieved one of the most successful partnerships for the past 34 years, now it is time to prepare for next decades for genuine and long-lasting partnership by centering on more sustainable and equal relations.