South Korean President Moon Jae-in may have North Korea on his mind. But he’s also turning his attention to another part of Asia-Pacific: Southeast Asia.
Moon unveiled a far-reaching vision on Thursday to expand his country’s influence in Southeast Asia on a scale that rivals that of the superpowers by treating the region as a key diplomatic and economic partner. The move is aimed at reducing South Korea’s heavy reliance on China, its largest trading partner, by diversifying its market.
Korea JoongAng Daily reports that Moon publicized his plan during a speech in Jakarta at a business forum on Wednesday. The South Korean leader is in the capital city of Indonesia for a three-day visit, which included a meeting with Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Thursday.
Moon rolled out a policy to drastically boost exchanges and cooperation with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) at his Jakarta event which was attended by 400 South Korean and Indonesian business leaders.
“It is my goal to elevate Korea’s relationship with ASEAN to the level of its relations with the four major powers around the Korean Peninsula,” Moon said. The four major powers refer to the United States, China, Japan and Russia.
“To this end, the Korean government will strongly push forward a new southern policy to dramatically improve cooperative ties with ASEAN,” JoongAng quoted Moon as saying. “The Korea-ASEAN relationship used to be centered on trade of goods, but I want to expand it to exchanges of technologies, culture, arts and people. We can start reinforcing the cooperation from the areas that are essential for the ASEAN countries such as transportation, energy, water management and smart information and communication technology.”
South Korea’s economy suffered this year after China imposed a trade and economic slowdown following Seoul’s decision to deploy a US antimissile system inside the country. But Seoul and Beijing appear to be trying to resolve the issue now that Chinese President Xi Jinping has been reelected to a second five-year term as the leader of China’s communist party.