Stronger Korea, Stronger Asean
By Na Jeong-ju
SEOGWIPO, Jeju Island ― South Korea is seeking to raise its international status by representing Asia's common interests in the international arena.
President Lee Myung-bak unveiled plans Monday at a summit with ASEAN leaders here to increase Seoul's Official Development Assistance to the economic bloc and facilitate cultural exchanges.
``The ASEAN-Korea Summit provides us with a crucial opportunity to share Lee's vision for a `stronger Korea, stronger Asia' with our regional partners,'' a presidential spokesperson said.
``Solid economic and diplomatic ties with Southeast Asia are essential for Korea to realize its dream of carrying the banner for the continent on the global stage.''
President Lee has engaged in active summit diplomacy with global leaders since his inauguration in February last year. While meeting with them, Lee realized that Asia is largely undervalued in the West despite its economic potential, according to the spokesperson.
``Lee was eager to promote Asia's interests in the world and thought South Korea was capable of doing that,'' the spokesperson said on condition of anonymity.
While visiting Jakarta in March, Lee announced the ``New Asia Initiative,'' under which Korea seeks to expand the scope of its diplomacy beyond East Asia, Europe and the United States and upgrade relations with more regional partners.
Cheong Wa Dae said the initiative aims to open a new era of closer cooperation with all countries in the Asia-Pacific region through free trade agreements and active cultural exchanges.
Seoul has been in negotiations with ASEAN to complete free trade deals on merchandise, services, investment and dispute settlements. An agreement on merchandise took effect last year while a deal on services is expected to be inked today at the end of the Korea-ASEAN summit.
President Lee also proposed a ``low carbon, green growth'' strategy to regional partners, which is aimed at seeking sustainable and environmentally friendly development.
Lee said energy-saving measures and clean energy will represent the new economic trend, so Asia should try to become a leader in creating the new landscape.
Lee also urged Asia to strengthen efforts to enlarge bond markets, saying the move will help Asia have a stronger say on global markets.
``The global bond markets are heavily dependent on the United States. The expansion of Asian bond markets is already a shared goal among ASEAN leaders,'' President Lee told reporters earlier. ``It is important to strengthen regional financial cooperation and pursue free trade to tide over the current economic crisis and for economic growth and common prosperity.''