BUSAN, South Korea: The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and South Korea should work together to push for multilateral and regional economic integration, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Tuesday (Nov 26).
This was one way in which the regional bloc and the Republic of Korea (ROK) could drive their relationship forward, Mr Lee suggested at a plenary session on the second day of the ASEAN-ROK Commemorative Summit.
The two-day summit in the South Korean city Busan celebrates the 30th anniversary of dialogue partnership between the two sides.
During his speech, Mr Lee said that the broad-based partnership between ASEAN and South Korea has been “further strengthened” under South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s New Southern Policy (NSP), which aims to cultivate relations with ASEAN and India as key partners.
Current economic links are "robust", he said, pointing to South Korea's role as ASEAN’s fifth-largest trading partner.
"We should continue to build on these strong fundamentals, against economic headwinds and waning faith in the benefits of trade and globalisation,” he said.
Strengthening the ASEAN-ROK Free Trade Area is a good step in this direction, he added.
Singapore, as the ASEAN coordinator for the ASEAN-ROK Free Trade Agreement, will work with all parties to further liberalise products that come under the “sensitive” track that have separate conditions on tariff reduction, he said.
The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) will be another platform that can deepen economic integration and harness the region’s growth potential, he said.
Fifteen nations including South Korea earlier this month concluded “text-based” negotiations for the RCEP, which has been in the works for seven years. Formal signing on what could be the world’s largest trade deal is expected to take place next year.
Calling it a “significant achievement”, Mr Lee expressed appreciation and thanks for South Korea’s “constructive” support.
“It is crucial that we step up efforts to bring the RCEP across the finishing line,” he said.
CYBERSECURITY CRITICAL TO SUPPORT DIGITAL ECONOMY
The regional grouping and South Korea should also intensify cooperation on the digital economy, he said, describing cybersecurity as a “concrete area” and a “critical ingredient” to support the development of the digital economy.
One of the basic principles of the South Korean National Cybersecurity Strategy unveiled in August this year is to enhance cooperation with the international community, he noted.
In that regard, Mr Lee said he was happy that South Korea is a partner of the newlyestablished ASEAN-Singapore Cybersecurity Centre of Excellence, he said.
The centre will conduct research and provide capacity-building programmes, covering both policy and technical areas, for senior ASEAN officials, Mr Lee said.
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“I’m confident that we can strengthen the region’s cybersecurity and resilience significantly if we work together,” he said.
STRENGTHENING TRANSPORT LINKS
In another plenary session, Mr Lee - who said ASEAN and South Korea are “taking the lead to push back against the tide” at a time when globalisation and multilateral cooperation are under pressure - said the two parties should strengthen transport links.
“I therefore welcome the resumption of negotiations on the ASEAN-ROK Air Services Agreement,” he said.
He noted that two-way tourism between ASEAN and South Korea reached 10 million travellers in 2017, and said that enhanced air links will help reach the target of 15 million travellers by 2020.
Infrastructure development is another promising area of connectivity, he added. He noted that many Korean contractors support major infrastructure projects in Southeast Asia, including Singapore.
“They are known for their professionalism, efficiency and competitive pricing. We welcome the participation of more Korean companies in our projects,” he said.
He also said that Singapore is happy to explore opportunities together with South Korea through the newly set-up Infrastructure Asia, which will partner stakeholders to develop, finance and implement bankable projects.
Smart cities are another area that the two sides can work on together, he said, adding that the Smart City Fair and the Ministerial Meeting on Smart Cities on Monday was a good start.
“Korea has a high innovation density and its industries have valuable technological expertise, which can fuel our smart cities capabilities and vision,” he said.