SoKor to enhance relations with PH, ASEAN under New Southern Policy Plus Strategy

Published November 30, 2020, 9:34 AM

by Jonathan Hicap

South Korea will further enhance its cooperation with the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries under the New Southern Policy (NSP) Plus Strategy unveiled by President Moon Jae-in earlier this month. 

South Korean President Moon Jae-in speaking at the 21st ASEAN-ROK Summit last Nov. 12 where he unveiled the New Southern Policy Plus Strategy (Photo by Cheong Wa Dae) 

The NSP was launched by Moon in November, 2017, in a bid to forge closer relations with the  Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and India under three pillars — people, prosperity, and peace.

“In conventional Korean diplomatic practices, only the big four major countries–the US, China, Japan, and Russia–are given priorities. So other actors, partners like ASEAN have largely remained as secondary in Seoul’s foreign policy priorities in spite of ASEAN’s prominence and importance to Korea,” said Dr. Won-gi Choe of the Korea National Diplomatic Academy. 

Choe made the keynote presentation at the webinar “New Southern Policy Plus: Reinforced Commitment Towards Building Prosperous Partnerships” held on Nov. 26 that was organized by the Korean Embassy in the Philippines and the University of the Philippines Korea Research Center. 

He said NSP is now Moon’s “signature foreign policy initiative that includes all major policy fronts. That means diplomatic, economic, socio-cultural, as well as strategic.”

“Looking back on the achievements and progress that we have made since the inception of the New Southern Policy, I think NSP is the most successful and the most active policy initiative and program in the Moon administration,” said Choe. 

In an interview in Seoul in 2018 organized by the ASEAN-Korea Centre, Kim Hyun-chul, chairman of the committee and presidential economic adviser, told the Manila Bulletin that the Philippines would benefit from the NSP. 

“The cooperation of the Philippines with the South Korean government is all set out in the three key pillars of the New Southern Policy. In terms of people, there has been a discussion on the safety of Korean tourists in the Philippines. Also, there is an ongoing discussion on the Employment Permit System as well,” Kim said.

He added that “under the pillar of prosperity, there are many Korean logistics businesses, film industry, and manufacturing sectors that want to invest in the Philippines. There are also issues of importation of agricultural products from the Philippines to Korea. Under peace, the purchase and selling of military equipment is also dealt with.”

At the 21st ASEAN-ROK Summit last Nov. 12, Moon announced that “Korea has devised the New Southern Policy Plus Strategy, based on our assessment that the vision and outcome of the New Southern Policy has benefited both ASEAN and Korea.” 

“The New Southern Policy Plus Strategy lays out fresh, feasible initiatives centered on the seven key areas of cooperation including comprehensive healthcare cooperation. With this Strategy, we will be able to take the lead in the post-COVID-19 era, and realize the vision of a people-centered community of peace and prosperity faster,” he said. 

Choe said these seven areas are public health including cooperation on COVID-19 initiatives, education/human capital development, cultural exchanges, trade and investment, infrastructure development, future industries like 5G and artificial intelligence (AI), and non-traditional security issues such as environment and climate change. 

He said NSP Plus “is not a replacement of the original NSP initiative” and it’s more of an implementation strategy of NSP in the context of COVID-19. 

Dr. Aaron Jed Rabena of the Asia Pacific Pathways to Progress Foundation said in terms of economic gains under NSP, in 2017, the Philippines’ trade with South Korea totaled $13 billion. South Korea became the country’s fourth largest export market and fourth largest import source. In 2018, it was $13 billion and last year, it stood at $11.7. 

South Korea had $13.2 million worth of investment in the country in 2017 to become the Philippines’ 11th largest source of investment. This increased to $60.17 million in 2018 and $142.73 million in 2019 with South Korea rising to third place as an investment source of the Philippines. 

Under Korea’s official development assistance (ODA), the Philippines received $570 million in 2017, $737 million in 2018, and $630 million in 2019. 

South Korea is also the No. 1 source of tourists for the Philippines. In 2017, there were 1.6 million Koreans who arrived in the country followed by 1.5 million in 2018, and 1.9 million in 2019. 

According to the ASEAN-Korea Centre, Filipino tourists who visited Korea increased from 449,000 in 2017 to 460,000 in 2018, and 504,000 in 2019. As of last year, the Philippines became the third largest source of tourists of South Korea among ASEAN countries. 

During the webinar, Korean Ambassador Han Dong-man said, “The New Southern Policy achieved a lot for the last three years.”

Other speakers at the webinar were Prof. Victor Dindo Manhit of the Stratbase ADR Institute for Strategic and International Studies, Dr. Michelle Palumbarit of the UP Diliman Asian Center, Dr. Andrew Yeo of The Catholic University of America, Prof. Frances Antoinette Cruz of the UP Diliman Center for Integrative and Development Studies, Prof. Mark Isla of the Far Eastern University International Studies Department, Dr. Eun-hui Eom of the Seoul National University Asia Center, and Dr. Jeong Gon Kim of the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy.