18 December 2014
PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – The Republic of Korea (ROK) is taking a proactive foreign policy towards its Southeast Asian neighbors to realize its vision of becoming a relevant middle power in the Asia Pacific. South Korea has an advantage, for it does not have serious strategic rivalry or competition with major powers in the region.
To gain middle power status, it needs to strengthen comprehensive strategic partnerships with regional countries and institutions. Economic and cultural tools are considered the foundations of the ROK’s soft power.
In 1991, the ROK became the full dialogue partner of ASEAN. In 1997, the first ASEAN-ROK Summit was institutionalized to strengthen cooperation and partnership in a collective effort to address global and regional challenges, particularly to improve the state of regional economic recovery after the Asian Financial Crisis hit the region in late 1997.
In 2004, ASEAN and the ROK signed a Joint Declaration on Comprehensive Cooperation Partnership. And in the same year, the ROK acceded to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC). In 2010, ASEAN-ROK relations were upgraded to a strategic partnership.
Trade and investment are the two most important cooperation areas. The ROK is now the fifth largest trading partner of ASEAN while ASEAN is the second largest trading partner of the ROK. The bilateral trade volume reached $135 billion in 2013 and the mutual investment capital totaled $4 billion as of 2013.
On the cultural front, the ROK has provided scholarships and training opportunities to ASEAN students, organized cultural events to promote mutual understanding and friendship, and developing future generation of leaders including the opinion leaders.
In their joint statement to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the ASEAN-ROK Dialogue Relations on 15 December 2014, the leaders from the ROK and ASEAN committed to build “solidarity and identity” as the “cognitive basis for friendship and cooperation”. To realize this, cultural and people exchange need to be further promoted.
The ROK also supports social protection in ASEAN by promoting implementation of ASEAN Declaration on Strengthening Social Protection, and providing support and cooperation in the implementation of ASEAN Social Work Consortium Work Plan.
The ROK has also actively strengthened its bilateral relations with all ASEAN Member States. Such strong bilateral ties constitute the foundation of ROK-ASEAN strategic partnership.
Cambodian-South Korean ties have remarkably strengthened since the resumption of diplomatic relations in 1997. Last week’s meeting between Prime Minister Hun Sen and President Park Geun-hye in Busan was another milestone in deepening bilateral friendship and partnership.
South Korea plays a significant role in assisting Cambodia to realize its development strategy, to maintain high economic development, and accelerate poverty reduction. Cambodia really needs capital, knowledge, and technology from the ROK. Furthermore, the ROK can share its development experiences especially in the field of good governance.
Since the 2000’s, the ROK has become a main development partner of Cambodia. The ROK has provided more than $550 million of development assistance to the Kingdom to develop infrastructure, strengthen human capital and institutional capacity, and support small and medium enterprises. Cooperation in education, healthcare, and agriculture will be strengthened.
The ROK is one of the top investors in Cambodia, after China and Japan. The accumulated investment capital accounted for $730 million as of 2013. The investment projects concentrate on the real estate industry, textile industry, tourism sector, and the financial market. Relatively cheap labor, liberal investment laws, and improving regional production chains and connectivity are the three main pull factors for Korean investors.
Moreover, the ROK is the most attractive destination for Cambodian migrant workers. Currently there are 35,000 Cambodians working in the ROK. Working conditions and employment benefits are relatively better than those in Thailand and Malaysia. During the meeting with President Park, Prime Minister Hun Sen requested that ROK to receive more Cambodian migrant workers.