RoK official praises Vietnam’s role in ASEAN hinh anh 1Secretary General of the ASEAN Korea Centre Lee Hyuk (Photo: VNA)

Seoul (VNA) - ASEAN Korea Centre (AKC) Secretary General Lee Hyuk has appreciated the role of Vietnam in ASEAN and as ASEAN Chair this year as well as the prospects of ASEAN-ROK ties in the future in an interview given to the Vietnam News Agency on the threshold  of the 37th Summit and related summits scheduled for  November 12-15.

He said this year Vietnam is not only assuming the rotating Chairmanship of ASEAN but is also celebrating the 25th anniversary of its accession to the bloc.

“Over the quarter-century, Vietnam has not only become an integral part of ASEAN, but today is one of the stronger growth engines of the ASEAN Economic Community contributing to the regional prosperity,” he noted.

Even before the outbreak of the coronavirus, Vietnam’s chairmanship was faced with many challenges—the slowdown in global economy, the rising tension between US and China in the region, and the growing frequency of natural disasters due to climate change, just to mention a few. And when COVID19 broke out, Vietnam had to face even greater hardship as it carried out its ASEAN Chairmanship.

However, under theme “cohesive and responsive” —which was not only very timely but also relevant to the current pandemic situation—Vietnam demonstrated excellent leadership, not only in successfully containing the spread of the virus at home, but also in uniting the ASEAN Member States (AMS) together for joint action, Lee affirmed.

He went on to say that through numerous online video conferences at both the summit and ministerial levels, Vietnam was able to bring the region together to share information on COVID19; to support affected areas with medical equipment; to facilitate movement of essential peoples; and to commit to open and free trade and minimise the effects of supply chain disruptions. 

As a matter of fact, on November 15, on the occasion of the ASEAN-related summits, the leaders of ten member states and and five partner countries including the Republic of Korea, Japan, China, Australia and New Zealand will sign the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which is expected to significantly boost trade in the region in the wake of COVID-19, he added. 

Regarding the prospects of the ASEAN-RoK ties in the future, Lee said after celebrating the 30th anniversary of ASEAN-RoK ties last year during the Commemorative Summit in 2019, the two sides were ready to embark on a year of heightened partnership this year.

Unfortunately, the sudden outbreak and subsequent global spread of COVID-19 put may collaborative projects and exchanges on hold.

However, ASEAN and the RoK took the opportunity to strengthen ties in new areas — in addition to shoring up joint efforts in responding to the pandemic, the two sides set up a regular channel of communication among the health agencies for increased coordination. The RoK contributed 1 million USD to ASEAN’s COVID-19 Response Fund and provided humanitarian support to affected communities.

In particular, Vietnam and the RoK, both having shown early success in containing the spread of the virus, took leadership in creating positive momentum for ASEAN-RoK cooperation. Over the past months, Vietnam has helped 5,000 Korean businessmen to enter Vietnam and the two countries are currently working on a fast-track arrangement to further facilitate the movement of essential people. The country would be the third such ASEAN member states to do so following Indonesia and Singapore.

Indeed, based on past experiences of having turned crises into opportunities (such as during the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis), ASEAN and the RoK is expected to emerge stronger from the current difficulties to forge a robust partnership in the future, he said.

As important trade and investment partners (ASEAN is the RoK’s second largest, and the latter is the former’s fifth largest trading partner), the two sides will be indispensible to each other in the post-COVID19 economic recovery efforts.

According to Lee, the strategic importance of ASEAN to the RoK and the RoK to ASEAN will also grow as the region seeks to strengthen multilateralism and ASEAN centrality in the midst of rising tensions between the US and China.

It is against this backdrop that the RoK Government is launching the “New Southern Policy Plus”, on the occasion of the ASEAN-RoK Summit that will be celebrating the 10th anniversary of the ASEAN-RoK Strategic Partnership.

The upgraded policy is expected to further elevate, expand and deepen mutually beneficial partnership in reflection of the changing geo-political and economic landscape of the region, he concluded./.