South Korea-Vietnam relations, a link to promote relations between S.Korea and ASEAN and the Mekong subregions
South Korea-Vietnam relations, a link to promote relations between S.Korea and ASEAN and the Mekong subregions
  • Choe Nam-suk
  • 승인 2019.11.23 09:13
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Moon Jae-in the President of the Republic of Korea (left) and Nguyen Xuan Phuc, the Prime Minister of Vietnam (right)

At the invitation of the Government of the Republic of Korea (ROK), Nguyen Xuan Phuc, the Prime Minister of Vietnam (VN), will pay an official visit to the ROK and attend the ROK - ASEAN and ROK - Mekong Summit held in Busan from November 25 to 27, 2019. 

The visit of the Vietnamese Prime Minister takes place in the context of the 30th anniversary of establishing ASEAN-ROK Dialogue Partnership and 27th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations between VN and the ROK. VN, as an important member of ASEAN, the ROK’s largest economic partner in the region, has been actively contributing to the strong development of VN-ROK bilateral relations, as well as the relations between ROK and ASEAN and the Mekong subregion countries.

ROK’s relations with ASEAN countries have continuously developed during recent years and achieved many impressive results.
The ROK and ASEAN established a Dialogue Partnership in 1989, before upgrading the relationship to a "strategic partnership" in 2009. Immediately after taking office, President Moon Jae In promoted the importance of the ROK’s relations with ASEAN, equating them with the country’s relations with the US, China, Russia and Japan, as well as actively implemented the "New Southern” Policy to strengthen relations with ASEAN. Political confidence fosters development in economic cooperation, and ASEAN has prevailed, becoming the second largest trading partner of the ROK while the ROK is the fourth largest trading partner of ASEAN, with total bilateral trade turnover reaching nearly US$160 billion in 2018. 

The two parties are hopeful and optimistic that they will reach the goal of raising trade turnover to US$200 billion by 2020. The ROK’s investment into ASEAN is the largest among the country’s total foreign investment, with a capital of US$6.13 billion in the previous year. Additionally, civilian exchange between the two parties quickly developed. In 2018, the total number of Korean tourists visiting ASEAN reached 8.98 million; the number of ASEAN tourists traveling to Korea reached 2.46 million. Both parties pledged to increase the number of bilateral tourist visits to 15 million by 2020.

Since 2011, the ROK has been actively developing cooperative relations with Mekong subregion countries (including Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar). In particular, the Government of the ROK has focused on investing in joint projects with other countries in the region through the Mekong - ROK Cooperation Fund (MKCF) and through ODA cooperation. Currently, both parties are focused on implementing the Mekong-ROK Action Plan for 2017-2020 to continue strengthening cooperation in areas such as transport linkage; rural development; human resource training. 

The Mekong sub-region countries all deeply appreciate the ROK’s cooperation and the ROK-Mekong Vision that President Moon Jae In unveiled on his visit to Laos in early September 2019.
Vietnam plays a central role in the ROK’s "New Southern” Policy, and is an important link in the development of relations between the ROK and ASEAN and the Mekong subregion countries.

In recent years, the ROK has particularly appreciated its relations with VN. Relations between the two countries have developed in many areas, especially economics. The ROK is currently one of VN’s most important partners, ranking first in terms of investment; second in ODA (after Japan), tourism and trade (after China). VN is the third largest trading partner of the ROK. Bilateral trade turnover continues to grow rapidly, reaching US$61.5 billion in 2017, US$65 billion in 2018 and US$55 billion in only the first 10 months of 2019. Currently about 200,000 Vietnamese nationals reside in the ROK and about 150,000 Korean nationals reside in VN.

The Moon Jae In Government has determined that strengthening relations with Vietnam plays a central role in implementing the "New Southern” Policy to bolster relations with ASEAN. President Moon Jae In once asserted: "Our relations with ASEAN are indispensable for our prosperity and peace, and Vietnam is at the center of that relationship". There are many reasons for the ROK to appreciate the role that VN plays in the two countries’ bilateral relations and in the ROK’s relations with ASEAN and the Mekong subregion countries. 
Firstly, VN has an advantageous geographical position: located in the center of ASEAN, with a stable political environment, and many cultural similarities with the ROK. VN has a population of nearly 100 million with 60% under the age of 35; VN’s GDP growth has always remained over 6%. Currently, VN is an ideal investment destination for Korean investors who want to focus on ASEAN markets and cooperate on exporting to EU and US markets. In October 2019, the US News and World Report published a report that ranked 29 most attractive economies for foreign investment, with VN ranking eighth and ranked first among ASEAN countries (Malaysia 13th; Singapore 14th; and Indonesia 18th).

Furthermore, VN’s role in ASEAN and in the Mekong subregion countries has always been highly appreciated by the countries in the bloc. During the 22 years of joining ASEAN, VN has made great contributions to promoting intra-ASEAN cooperation as well as cooperation between ASEAN and its partners. VN also successfully completed its role as Chairman of the ASEAN Standing Committee in 2001 and the ASEAN Chairmanship in 2010, contributing to enhancing the Association's international prestige. 

Vietnam actively takes the leading role in regional economic integration and is one of the two countries with the highest implementation rate of commitments in the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) master plan; promoting the development and implementation of economic cooperation agreements both intra-ASEAN and between ASEAN and partners, actively striving to strengthen connectivity and narrowing the development gap among ASEAN countries.

The fact that VN will assume the role of ASEAN Chair and the position of Non-permanent Member of the United Nations Security Council during the 2020-2021 term will create favorable conditions for the further development of bilateral relations between the ROK and VN in particular and between the ROK and ASEAN and the Mekong sub-region countries as a whole. During her official visit to the ROK, VN National Assembly Chairwoman Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan affirmed: "VN is ready to promote multilateral cooperation between the ROK and ASEAN". In addition, the ROK also highly appreciates VN’s increasingly important role in dealing with regional and international issues, including the Korean Peninsula issue. Maintaining good relations with both Koreas is also one of Vietnam's advantages, which can assist the ROK in the process of building peace and unity on the peninsula.

It can be claimed that the ROK-VN relationship has become a model relationship for the relations between the ROK and ASEAN countries. The two countries still possess great potentials for complementing each other in the process of cooperation and development. VN Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc’s visit to the ROK and attendance in the ASEAN-ROK Summit and the Mekong-ROK Summit will contribute greatly to promoting VN-ROK, ASEAN-ROK, and Mekong-ROK relations to a new level for peace, prosperity and mutual benefit.

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