The Korea Herald


[Contribution] Warming the Pacific, desalting the Indian Ocean: Korea's strategic dive into the Indo-Pacific

By Korea Herald

Published : May 20, 2024 - 15:43

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Special Representative for Indo-Pacific at South Korea's Foreign Ministry Chung Kee-yong. (Photo courtesy of Ministry of Foreign Affairs) Special Representative for Indo-Pacific at South Korea's Foreign Ministry Chung Kee-yong. (Photo courtesy of Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

By Special Representative for Indo-Pacific Chung Kee-yong

The Indian and Pacific Oceans meet in a vast region near Australia, not with a sharp boundary but with their waters gradually merging over thousands of kilometers.

Due to its larger size and proximity to the Arctic, the Pacific Ocean is typically cooler than the Indian Ocean.

The Indian Ocean, in turn, boasts slightly higher salinity levels, likely a result of both higher evaporation rates and limited freshwater influx.

This expansive Indo-Pacific region, where the cooler Pacific collides with the warmer Indian Ocean, presents a complex strategic environment for Korea.

The Indo-Pacific is a microcosm of megatrends shaping our world. Security concerns, particularly regarding territorial disputes and a growing power, demand a rules-based order and strong regional partnerships.

The economic powerhouse of the region hums with immense trade potential, but necessitates robust investment in infrastructure. New technologies, such as artificial intelligence and maritime security systems, offer both progress and the potential for strategic competition.

Finally, the looming threat of climate change casts a long shadow over coastlines and marine ecosystems.

Korea's 2022 Indo-Pacific Strategy reflects this understanding. The Strategy emphasizes a "free, peaceful, and prosperous" Indo-Pacific, built on a rules-based order and shared values. This translates to a two-pronged strategy: fostering development and ensuring security across the region.

Warming the Pacific: Development as a catalyst for stability

Just like the cooler Pacific, some parts of the Indo-Pacific lag behind in development.

Korea, with its own impressive economic rise story, is well-positioned to bridge this gap. By providing development assistance, knowledge transfer and promoting sustainable practices, Korea can act as a catalyst for regional growth.

This "warming" of the Pacific will not only benefit partner nations but also create a more stable and prosperous environment for Korea itself.

Desalting the Indian Ocean: Enhancing maritime security

The Indian Ocean, with its higher salinity – a metaphor for potential security risks, necessitates a focus on maritime security cooperation. Piracy, illegal fishing and territorial disputes remain concerns.

Here, Korea can leverage its advanced maritime security technology and experience in peacekeeping missions to contribute to a more secure maritime domain.

By "desalting" these security risks, Korea fosters the free flow of trade, a lifeline for its heavily trade-dependent economy.

Beyond the metaphors: Embracing shared challenges

The Indo-Pacific is also at the forefront of emerging technologies and faces the existential threat of climate change.

As a leader in these fields, Korea can foster regional collaboration for responsible development and deployment of technologies, and share best practices in clean energy transition and disaster management.

By working together, the region can become more resilient.

Balancing act for a pivotal role

Korea's Indo-Pacific strategy walks a fine line. It seeks to promote development and security simultaneously, recognizing that both are essential for regional stability.

Through targeted development assistance ("warming" the Pacific) and maritime security cooperation ("desalting" the Indian Ocean), Korea can position itself as a vital partner.

This approach requires navigating complex relationships within the region, but through this "balancing act," Korea can play a pivotal role in shaping a peaceful, prosperous, and sustainable future for the Indo-Pacific.


Chung Kee-yong serves as a special representative for Indo-Pacific at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul. Chung's position aims to strengthen communication and cooperation with key countries in the region and beyond pursuant to the Republic of Korea’s “Strategy for a Free, Peaceful, and Prosperous Indo-Pacific Region.” The views expressed in this article are the author's own. -- Ed.