December 08, 2014 12:44
The leaders of the 10 member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations converge this week for a special Korea-ASEAN summit in Busan. ASEAN is fast emerging as a vital growth market for Korea and valuable partner in the diplomatic arena.
Around 3,000 ASEAN officials, including minsters and other high-ranking officials, will attend the meeting on Dec. 11-12.
This is the first multilateral meeting in Korea for the Park Geun-hye administration. Park plans to hold individual summits with the 10 ASEAN leaders as well as attending the plenary meeting.
She has devoted substantial time recently to preparations, officials said.
◆ Next Growth Engine
ASEAN has achieved relatively stable economic growth for several years, drawing attention as the next burgeoning market after the so-called BRICs and China. Even after the 2008 global financial crisis, ASEAN economies grew 4.7 percent in 2011, 5.6 percent in 2012 and 5.5 percent in 2013.
Korean trade with ASEAN totaled US$135.3 billion last year, or 13 percent of Korea's total trade volume, and was the country's second-largest trading partner after China.
Korea achieved a $28.7 billion surplus in trade with ASEAN last year, accounting for 65 percent of the country's total trade surplus. And Korean builders have won their second-biggest number of orders from ASEAN after the Middle East, while the bloc ranks second only to China in terms of Korean overseas investments.
An ASEAN Economic Community to be launched in 2015 will encompass a combined population of 637 million people and total GDP of $2.4 trillion. That will make it the world's third most populous market after China and India.
"Just five years ago, the ASEAN economy was about the size of Korea's, but now it's grown twice as big," a Foreign Ministry official said. "A few years from now, it will grow to about half the size of China's."
Some experts believe trade and investment in ASEAN could hold the key to helping Korea escape from the economic doldrums, just like the Middle Eastern construction boom helped the Korean economy grow in the 1970s.
◆ Joint Response
The regular ASEAN Regional Forum is Asia's only multilateral dialogue platform. The bloc is also a geographic link between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific. Korea, China and Japan are all racing to consolidate their diplomatic ties with it.
China has pledged $20 billion in development loans, while Japan has steadily bolstered economic ties with the region.
ASEAN is also a potential partner in helping North Korean defectors escape repatriation. Although member countries have formal diplomatic ties with North Korea, they oppose Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program.
A Foreign Ministry official said, "ASEAN support is crucial in getting North Korea to scrap its nuclear weapons and realizing peace on the Korean Peninsula."
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