Korea will open a diplomatic mission at the headquarters of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Jakarta, Indonesia in July to bolster relations with the regional bloc, which is seen as a future growth engine for the global economy.
Baek Seong-taek, the ambassador for international affairs in Busan, has been appointed Korea's first ambassador to ASEAN. "The role and importance of ASEAN are growing quickly and we could no longer delay opening a diplomatic mission there," a high-ranking government official here said Monday. "It will further strengthen our relationship with the regional body as the number of mutual visitors reaches 4.5 million."
The diplomatic mission will be located in the Korean Embassy in Jakarta. Baek previously worked in the Korean embassies in Malaysia and Vietnam and was also the councilor and consul general in Tokyo and Istanbul.
Seoul began pushing for the mission as bilateral trade volume reached US$125 billion (US$1=W1,149) last year, second only after China. Japan and the U.S. already have diplomatic missions at ASEAN, and China is preparing to open one.
Competition is expected to heat up between China, Japan, Korea and the U.S. for more access to ASEAN economies. China opened a center promoting exchanges with ASEAN in November 2011 after Korea opened a similar agency in March of 2009.
Korea aims to increase annual trade with Indonesia to $100 billion a year by 2020, and President Lee Myung-bak is in Burma, the first Korean leader to visit the country in 29 years.
"More than 200,000 people from ASEAN member countries have come to Korea to work, marry or study," said Chung Hae-moon of the ASEAN-Korea Center. "Korea and ASEAN must seek new opportunities with a wide range of partners."