Taking strong partnerships forward
South Korean President Moon Jae-in on ties with Thailand, Asean, and North Korea
In a written interview with the Bangkok Post, President Moon Jae-in of the Republic of Korea gives his views on Thai-Korean relations and South Korea's stance on regional issues, ahead of his trip to Thailand on Sept 1-3.
What is the expected outcome of your visit to Thailand?
First of all, I would like to express my profound gratitude to the Thai Government and people for inviting me. I would also like to take this opportunity to convey my deepest condolences and respect for His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej The Great once again. At the same time, my congratulations go to His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn Phra Vajiraklaochaoyuhua on his coronation this year. I wish Thailand continued success under His Majesty's leadership.
Thailand is a true friend of the Republic of Korea and was the first country to come to its aid in the midst of great turmoil during the Korean War. The Korean people will never forget the dedication and sacrifice of the Thai Korean War veterans and remain grateful to this day. During my visit to Thailand, I would like to convey our heartfelt appreciation to them in person.
Marking 60 years of diplomatic ties last year, Thailand and Korea established a strategic partnership. I regard relations with Thailand as being very important, and I want to see our relationship make further strides. To this end, I look forward to envisioning and discussing with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha the next 60 years of working together. Thailand, as the Chair of Asean for 2019, is spearheading peace and sustainable development in the region. We will also discuss cooperation between Asean and the Republic of Korea, as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the establishment of our dialogue partnership.
How would you describe bilateral relations between Korea and Thailand? Are there any new areas you would like to strengthen in Thai-Korean relations?
Ever since the establishment of diplomatic ties, our two countries have made steady progress in a variety of areas, including politics, the economy, culture and people-to-people exchanges. The Royal Thai Navy frigate HTMS Bhumibol Adulyadej, named after the Thai people's most revered king, was built in Korea. I'm pleased that we will be contributing to the security and defence of Thailand. Approximately 400 Korean companies are doing business in Thailand and guiding our two countries to common prosperity. In addition, annual trade volume reached a record high of US$14 billion last year.
In particular, the peoples of our two countries are curious about each other and share a mutual affection. About 2.3 million tourists from both countries visit Seoul, Busan, Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Phuket each year through daily direct flights. Moreover, some 40,000 people are studying the Korean language in Thailand, the largest number in the world. A number of talented young Thais are making a name for themselves on the world stage as members of K-pop acts, including Nichkhun of 2PM and Lisa of Blackpink.
I have high hopes for the future. Thailand and Korea already cooperate in many fields such as infrastructure, water management, environment, national defence and the defence industry. Bilateral cooperation will continue to expand and I also look forward to our two countries working together in responding to the Fourth Industrial Revolution era. Some of the countless sectors in which our two nations can collaborate are next-generation vehicles, robots, bioscience and smart electronics. By linking the Thai government's Thailand 4.0 policy and the Korean government's innovative growth initiative, we will be able to create not only synergy effects, but also future growth engines together.
What sort of role do you see for Asean in the denuclearisation of North Korea? How can Asean benefit if the peace process on the Korean Peninsula makes progress?
I am grateful to those Asean member states that maintain diplomatic relations with both South and North Korea for providing steadfast support in our journey towards peace on the Korean Peninsula. Asean and the Republic of Korea have shared an understanding that the North Korean nuclear issue should be resolved in a peaceful way and that a peace regime should be established on the peninsula to serve regional peace and stability.
Asean has served as an important communication channel between North Korea and the international community. In 2000, North Korea joined the Asean Regional Forum under Thailand's active auspices. This remains the only regional security consultative forum that North Korea is participating in. The fact that the two historic US-North Korea summits were held in Singapore and Hanoi demonstrates the immensely constructive role that Asean is playing in the peace process on the Korean Peninsula. During the 2019 Asean-related foreign ministers' meetings in which Thailand exhibited its leadership as the chair earlier this month, Asean spared no effort in providing support to sustain the momentum for dialogue.
Peace built on the Korean Peninsula is not confined exclusively to the peninsula. In the 21st century, borders are meaningless. Each country's economy and security are intertwined with those of other countries. I am convinced that peace on a Korean Peninsula free of confrontation and conflict will lead to prosperity not only on the peninsula, but also in East Asia, including Asean. This is the peace economy that my administration envisions. I hope Asean will continue to take part in our efforts to build peace on the Korean Peninsula.
Should North Korean leader Kim Jong-un be invited to the Asean-Republic of Korea Commemorative Summit in Busan or the pre-East Asia Summit in Bangkok? Why and how has he pledged his commitment to denuclearisation to you?
Korea will host the Asean-Republic of Korea Commemorative Summit and Mekong-Korea Summit in Busan in November to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Asean-ROK dialogue relations. In this regard, President Joko Widodo of Indonesia proposed inviting Chairman Kim Jong-un to the upcoming summit, and the proposal was endorsed by a number of heads of state. It would be a very meaningful occasion for peace on the Korean Peninsula and in East Asia, if Chairman Kim is given the chance to join the gathering. At the East Asia Summit due to be held in Bangkok, East Asian countries would be able to discuss in detail with North Korea about possible areas of cooperation between them.
Of course, the decision on whether to invite Chairman Kim should be made in light of the progress being made in the peace process on the Korean Peninsula, including the dialogue between the United States and North Korea. We will continue to engage in related consultations with Asean countries.
Chairman Kim has personally made clear his commitment to complete denuclearisation on various occasions, including the three inter-Korean summits last year and the two summits with the United States. Chairman Kim personally expressed his willingness to move forward by opting for economic development instead of nuclear programmes. What matters most is for North Korea to actually put denuclearisation into concrete action. I hope that Asean will play a big role in helping North Korea abandon its nuclear programmes and stand together with all of us through economic cooperation.
Why are Asean and India the focus of your New Southern Policy?
The New Southern Policy, which I announced at the first Asean Summit following my inauguration, is all about cooperation for people, prosperity and peace, and it aims to help all peoples lead better lives in enhanced peace and happiness. Asean and India are the policy's initial focal points because -- being Korea's close neighbours -- the two regions have greater potential than other regions for people on all sides to grow closer and work together for common prosperity.
Since establishing dialogue relations in 1989, Korea and Asean have retained close ties when it comes to maintaining peace and stability in East Asia, economic development, and people-to-people and cultural exchanges. Asean is Korea's second largest trading partner, and the number of mutual visitors surpassed 11 million for the first time last year. In particular, Asean is geopolitically important as evidenced by how some major countries are focusing on the region by announcing relevant regional cooperation initiatives.
India is also growing dynamically and leading the global economy. Based on the common goal of peace and stability in our respective regions, Korea and India have steadily developed bilateral relations by establishing a special strategic partnership in 2015. In addition, there is plenty of room for cooperation since Indian Prime Minister Modi's Act East Policy and my administration's New Southern Policy share common features.
Asean is very concerned about the trade dispute between the United States and China as well as the Korea-Japan quarrel. Is there anything Asean can do to resolve the current stand-offs?
Asean member states are achieving common prosperity based on great respect for each other, more so than in any other region in the world. Asean, Korea and Japan all have grown through the free trade order. Asean and Korea must demonstrate by themselves that free trade is the path to shared prosperity, and must prevent trade conflicts between major powers and the spread of protectionism through such efforts.
It is very worrisome that Japan recently carried out an unwarranted economic retaliation against Korea in relation to history issues. It is all the more shocking because Japan has benefited considerably from the free trade order down the years and actively championed free trade on the international stage. The damage inflicted by Japan's measures will negatively impact not only Korea but also the global economy.
The Korean government intends to resolve the issue diplomatically through dialogue. The world has achieved common prosperity through a highly sophisticated division of labour. Korea and Japan have cooperated with each other for thousands of years. Korea's position is that history issues should be dealt with separately from economic cooperation, which must be maintained. It makes no sense to hurt each other's economy because of issues that lie outside the economic realm. A vicious cycle of response and counter-response is not desirable.
I'm ready to embrace and cooperate with Japan when it returns to the table for dialogue and cooperation, whenever that may be. I hope Japan and Korea will fulfill our responsibility so that future generations in East Asia will be able to experience prosperity achieved through cooperation. I would like to ask Asean, a close friend who cooperates with both Korea and Japan, to work together to steer Japan to the path of dialogue and diplomatic consultation.
What are the main reasons why Korea has been so interested in developing the Mekong River? What will you say to the Mekong leaders when you meet them for the first time at the end of November?
The Mekong River is called Indochina's lifeline since it is four times as long as the Korean Peninsula and more than 300 million people reside along it. The Mekong is the world's largest freshwater fishing ground and boasts the greatest biodiversity on earth after the Amazon, and the surrounding lands are fertile. Korea is confident that the Mekong will become a driving force behind Indochina's development. We also believe that Indochina's development is closely linked to Korea's own development.
To bring more happiness to people in the region, Korea has started to build infrastructure and cooperate in the management of water resources. In addition to ongoing bilateral projects with five Mekong nations, Korea is engaged in cooperation projects with related international organisations, including the Mekong River Commission. We are also seeking cooperation with regard to water resources management with ACMECS, a Thai-led regional economic consultation body.
I hope we will be able to help the residents of the Mekong region achieve sustainable development in the area by sharing and safely and effectively utilising their water resources. I will discuss the areas of cooperation to be prioritised at the inaugural Mekong-Korea Summit to be held in Korea in November. I will speak about sharing Korea's experience of economic development and achieving the Miracle on the Mekong River by emulating the Miracle on the Hangang River.
What is your concrete plan for East Asia? Could you please clarify the "bridge state theory"?
Thailand did not experience colonisation, but most East Asian countries suffered the tragic history of being reduced to an arena for competition among major powers. In geopolitical terms, Korea is the only country to be surrounded by four major powers, and it had no choice but to be cast to the periphery of the continent or ocean when it lacked strength.
A bridging nation is one that overcomes such a fate, draws on respective strengths associated with continental and maritime countries and links them together, thereby taking the lead in cooperation that benefits one another. To this end, we have to protect the international order founded on free trade above all and establish equitable and inclusive relations with each country.
Korea believes the establishment of peace on the Korean Peninsula is the beginning of a bridging nation. When South and North Korea work together and establish a peace-driven economy, they will be able to closely cooperate not only with China, Russia and Central Asian nations to the north but also with Europe. This is the Korean government's New Northern Policy. To the south, we will be able to cooperate with Asean and India and achieve inclusive growth. This is the New Southern Policy.
The New Northern Policy and New Southern Policy are not separate initiatives.
All countries will be able to share new opportunities for progress when they are connected through a bridge. Envisioning an Asian community where diverse forms of cooperation blossom among different countries on an equal footing, I hope that Korea will become a bridging nation that contributes to peace and prosperity.
Moon touts strength of Korea-Thailand partnership
President Moon Jae-in of South Korea has announced a strengthening of the partnership between Thailand and the Republic of Korea as he prepares to visit the kingdom on Sunday.
President Moon expects cooperation to grow during the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution, citing long-standing relations between the two countries. "I would like to express my profound gratitude to the government and people for inviting me. I would also like to take this opportunity to convey my deepest condolences and respect for His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej The Great, once again. At the same time, my congratulations go to His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn Phra Vajiraklaochaoyuhua on his coronation this year. I wish Thailand continued success under His Majesty's leadership," he said.
"Thailand is a true friend of the Republic of Korea and was the first country to come to its aid amid great turmoil during the Korean War. The Korean people will never forget the dedication and sacrifice of the Thai Korean War veterans and remain grateful to this day. During my visit to Thailand, I would like to convey our heartfelt appreciation to them in person," he added.
"Marking 60 years of diplomatic ties last year, Thailand and Korea established a strategic partnership. I regard relations with Thailand as being important, and I want to see our relationship make further strides. To this end, I look forward to discussing with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha the next 60 years of working together. Thailand, as the chair of Asean for 2019, is spearheading peace and sustainable development in the region." President Moon said he hopes Asean countries will be able to help ease the diplomatic spat between South Korea and Japan.