Monday, March 26, 2012

Human touch: key for ASEAN-Korea's future

ASEAN­Korea Centre’s new secretary general sees human relationships as the linchpin that will carry the partnership between Korea and the association of 10 Southeast Asian nations into the 21st century.

Career diplomat Chung Hae-moon, who started working as the center’s new secretary general on March 13, said he is focused on consolidating the center’s initial three years of expansion by increasing person-to-person exchanges and building awareness here of just how important Southeast Asia has become for Korea’s future prosperity.

“If you look at the flow of people-to-people exchanges between Korea and ASEAN, people got to understand gradually how important Southeast Asia is to Korea and the Korean people,” Chung said in a one-on-one interview with The Korea Times, Thursday.

“I hope I can build on the tremendous achievements made between ASEAN and Korea by exploring new areas of cooperation, creative and innovative areas of cooperation.”

The relationship between Korea and the 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has become vital since the end of the Cold War. Since 1990, ASEAN-Korea trade saw a 12-fold rise. Southeast Asia is Korea’s second largest trading partner with some $125 billion in two-way trade. China is Korea’s largest trading partner.

Though attention here is often directed toward the United States and Japan, Chung pointed out that Korean-ASEAN bilateral trade has “surpassed the trade between Korea and Japan, Korea and the U.S. and Korea and the E.U.”

Enormous people-to-people exchanges between ASEAN and Korea ― some 4.5 million people, too, indicate deep bilateral ties. ASEAN-Korea relations were lifted to a "strategic partnership" and the Korean government recently with the “New Asia Diplomatic Initiative.”

The center was established in 2009 on the 20th anniversary since Korea and the association began meeting to forge closer ties. The center is focused on facilitating closer ties and understanding in four areas of the bilateral relationship: to enhance trade, investment, tourism and cultural exchanges otherwise.

Chung said the center was focused on expanding its operations and staff through its initial three years, saying that it is now time to turn to consolidating those gains.

Chung pointed out that, for Korea, ASEAN now stands as a hugely important investment destination.

For example, the center will dispatch an investment mission to Cambodia and Myanmar to take part in an investment seminar today and tomorrow in Cambodia and in another this Thursday and Friday in Myanmar.

“ASEAN is also the second most important area for overseas investment for Korean construction companies,” he said. The No. 1 area for Korean construction is the Middle East.

Chung said he sees the broader picture of his role as secretary general of the center.

“It is extremely important for us to be mindful of the broad philosophical basis of that guides the center,” he said, asking the question: “Why has ASEAN become close to our heart, why is building this partnership in the interest of Korea and ASEAN?”

He said that these fundamental questions will lead the way in the steady and faithful implementation of the many projects and activities that the center manages.

“Raising the awareness of ASEAN here will contribute to this,” he said.

“And people-to-people exchanges will be fundamental to the future of the partnership in the ASEAN-Korean relationship.”

“I can be innovative in terms of injecting something useful in the partnership between ASEAN and Korea,” he added.

He said helping to connect universities between Korea and ASEAN member countries can be one in area in which “the center can play a certain bridge making role,” including increasing student exchanges, academic cooperation, expanding Southeast Asian language programs.

“You cannot achieve anything you want with limited resources, funding and man power. I think this center can connect various organizations between Korea and ASEAN to increase joint efforts.”

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