ASEAN-Korea Relations: Security, Trade, and Community Building (Proceedings of International Conferences)

ASEAN-Korea Relations

Editor:        Ho Khai Leong

ISBN:           9812304061 (ISBN-10)

Publisher: ISEAS Publishing, Singapore

Year:           2007

Price:          $49.90


Reviewed by Natalia P. Stancheva, PhD-Student, Sofia University “St, Kliment Ohridski”, Bulgaria

The pace, the dynamics and the direction of the integration processes in Asia have for a long time now been the subject of scholarly research. The global shift in international relations after the end of the Cold War, the economic and political implications of globalization and the new challenges in the security realm are just a part of the considerations when analyzing the initiatives for cooperation and community building in Asia,

Since 1991 Korea is a dialogue partner of ASEAN and is also a key participant in the summits of ASEAN plus Three (China, Japan, South Korea). The ASEAN plus Three cooperation started in 1997 and was institutionalized with the Joint Statement on East Asia Cooperation at the 3rd ASEAN plus Three Summit in Manila. It is a natural outcome of the old efforts to create regional cooperation. The ideas for the development of the intraregional integration can be traced back to the 1970s. Since the institutionalization of ASEAN plus Three, there have been adopted a number of key documents as for the direction in the development of the cooperation. The most important financial measure in this direction is considered to be the “Chiang Mai Initiative (CMI)”. What greatly impacts the economic cooperation in the region, is the negative consequences of the Asian financial crisis in 1997. What affects the security aspect most is the global threat of international terrorism in the aftermath of 11 September 2001. ASEAN – Korea relations – security, trade and community building searches to answer the question of how the new challenges affect the region, what are the possibilities for further enhancing the integration, which are the main problems that still have to be resolved.  

Succeeding a conference, held in September 2005 in Singapore on “Strengthening the Korea – ASEAN relationship”, the book was compiled of the papers and proceedings therein. The volume was subsequently published by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) Publishing. The conference was a part of a larger project, launched by the ISEAS to organize a series of seminars and conferences on the relations between ASEAN and the regional powers in Southeast Asia. It was organized by ISEAS, Singapore in cooperation with the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security (IFANS), Seoul, Korea and was funded by the Korea Foundation. Previous conferences in the series had been organized together with China, India, Australia, New Zealand and Russia, respectively.

The book is subdivided into five parts. The first couple of papers set the stage for the discussions by focusing on the respective regional security environments and security challenges. Kamarulnizam Abdullah in his paper looks at both the old and the emerging security challenges the region faces, especially in the light of the post-11 September 2001 situation. He argues that some of the old security challenges, such as the ethnic identity and land dispute, have entered a new dimension, Moreover he points out at the opportunity that the old conflicts shall seize being domestic in character and spill over to the region as a whole, thus posing the question how to deal with these threats adequately, having in mind the growing interconnectedness of the Southeast Asian countries. Among the new security challenges the most important in the author’s opinion are the radical political Islam, the Muslim militancy and terrorist threat, piracy and safety of maritime navigation. Another specific security concern in the region is the supposed change in the regional balance of power, as China increases both its economic and military potential. Another eventual hot spot concerns the role Japan is to play in sketching the political design for the region. The author highlights the positive role the ASEAN Regional Forum plays, especially as concerns confidence building among the parties involved in it. What is yet to be done, he argues, is to move one step further by developing preventive diplomacy measures. To recapitulate the outcome of the potential conflicts in the region is dependent upon the ability of the respective governments to launch some political and economic reforms, as well as their strength and capability to meet the security challenges.

Seo-Hang Lee in his paper focuses upon the threats to security facing Northeast Asia and also introduces a classification of the security challenges in the region. However he distinguishes between conventional and non-conventional security issues. The latter are characterized by the potential to lead to the use of force, when being non-military in essence. Examples are the management of natural resources, the protection of the environment, etc. However the most hazardous threats to the security in the region, Lee argues, are nationalism and nationalistic sentiments, the increase in military expenditure throughout the region, the competition among China, Japan, Russia and the United States, as well as the North Korean nuclear issue. It is just the North Korean nuclear issue, and the efforts to resolve it which sets the framework for a possible six-party security dialogue, not only on this specific matter, but also for a multilateral security talks on the broader measures to stabilize the region.

The second group of papers deals specifically with the non-traditional security threats. Carolina Hernandez in her paper examines comparatively the ASEAN and Korean approaches to non-traditional security issues and the co-operation between the two parties on the matter. Being transnational in character, but in the same time not requiring military co-operation, these issues should be easier to tackle. Identifying some of these problems Hernandez tries to find out the point of intersection in the strategies of ASEAN on the one hand and South Korea on the other for some of these security issues. One of the major non-security challenges is the transnational crime with its different dimensions, being it the illegal trafficking in drugs or human beings, the smuggling of small arms and light weapons or the piracy. Another set of issues concerns the global terrorism, the counteraction of pandemic diseases, energy crises, and last but not least the natural disasters and environmental degradation. What distinguishes Korea from the other countries in the region, Hernandez argues, is its predominantly realistic approach to security, which has its historic and strategic background. In conclusion the author pays attention to the fact that these new threats are to be treated adequately because of their transnational character, but also as a further step in the co-operation within the region. She therefore recommends that the cooperation between South Korea and ASEAN, as concerns security issues, should be strengthened and further enhanced.

Kang Choi in his paper searches to answer the question how to counter terrorism. First of all, he argues, there is a necessity of a new security paradigm in the post – cold war era, because of the nature and scope of the new security challenges and what is called “comprehensive security” (p.59). Its most prominent characteristics are the predominance of non-traditional security challenges over the conventional security threats, the practically unlimited scope of the threats, being common to humanity as a whole. That is why they require joint counteraction, having in mind the new technological developments and their impact on the weapons and means the terrorists use. Moreover the targets of the terrorist attacks nowadays are more difficult to predict than in the past, as they are aimed indiscriminately at large groups of people. Another specific feature of the so called new terrorism is the different motivation that underlies the terrorist actions. “Terrorist groups based on ideological or political agenda in the past are now driven by religious and ethnic hatred or by cultural misunderstanding” (p.61). Although there are a lot of protocols, treaties, joint declarations signed on combating terrorism, there is still not a common notion of what it is, and also who counteracts it, when and how (to paraphrase the famous Harold Lasswell’s phrase on politics (Lasswell, 1935). There are still a lot of controversies on the measures that are to be taken against terrorism, on the vague delimitation between counteracting terrorism and violating human rights. What is to be done first is to work out a definition of terrorism, to elaborate a comprehensive convention on countering terrorism and to designate an executive agency to monitor the implementation of the measures. Efforts are to be made at both the international and the regional level. Measures are to be taken to consolidate and strengthen the judicial authority, which is to deal with such cases as well as to eradicate the reasons for terrorism.

A third group of papers shifts the focus from security to economic issues and deals with the economic cooperation and the free trade areas (FTA). Chanin Mephokee examines ASEAN – Korea economic co-operation. As South Korea signed its first free trade agreement only in 2004 with Chile, it plans to launch negotiations with trading partners worldwide, for some dozens more. It is supposed to be a positive impetus for the Korean export-driven economy. Special efforts have been made to examine the opportunities for a comprehensive ASEAN – South Korean partnership in the economic sphere. Mephokee reviews the economic relations by analyzing the data of the interrelations of export and import, trade balance and investment. The author elaborates on the different trade barriers– tariff and non-tariff barriers, export subsidies, services barriers, investment barriers – and argues that a key factor for the successful introducing of an ASEAN – South Korean free trade agreement (AKFTA) is their elimination. The negotiation of the free trade agreement between ASEAN and South Korea started in 2005 and as proven by the project agreement implies a high extent of economic cooperation.

Yul Kwon and Inwon Park in their paper discuss Korea’s perspective on the AKFTA. After the initial reluctance of South Korea for economic cooperation initiatives, and the financial crisis of 1997, Korea has made the first steps for negotiating such agreements. In doing so it has changed its position from multilateralism to regionalism, which can be expected to be a new stimulus for its economy and a way to avoid the effects of an eventual renewed financial crisis. The analysis of the interrelations of ASEAN and Korea shows the growing interdependence of the two parties Moreover there proves to be strong incentives for Korea to strive for a free trade area with ASEAN and the future agreement is estimated to be mutually beneficial.

The fourth group of papers deals with the ASEAN – Korea co-operation as concerns the development of new ASEAN members. Le Dinh Tinh goes about the question in the light of the potential for such a development by highlighting the importance of what he calls “an inclusive approach” (p. 103), that is “the development of the new members of ASEAN, namely Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam” (p. 103). Such an approach, the author argues, is good not only for the respective countries, but for East Asia, as a whole, taking into account the commitment for further integration, the economic potential of the region, and the interests of the countries. Korea has taken an active role in this respect, by launching the creation of the East Asia Vision Group (EAVG) as well as through its potential and experience to promote the good practices and help overcome the development gap within ASEAN. ASEAN and Korea are the signatories of the Joint Declaration on Comprehensive Co-operation Partnership of 30 November 2004, where, besides the parameters of the cooperation, the commitments were made for the specific efforts the two parties should pursue in order to narrow the development gap within ASEAN. However the positive steps undertaken, there is still a lot to be done in that direction. The two big questions as concern ASEAN – Korea co-operation in the development of the new members are, Tinh argues, about the balance of competitiveness vs. inclusiveness on the one hand, and bilateralism vs. multilateralism on the other hand. (p. 108).

Sung-Hoon Park’s paper elaborates on Korea’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) policy with regard to ASEAN – Korea cooperation in the development of new ASEAN members. Korea´s economic development has been described as a “miracle.” While being the beneficiary of assistance, since the mid-1980s Korea in its turn has started providing ODA. The paper analyzes thoroughly Korea’s ODA policy by reviewing its features, by comparing it to some member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and by estimating its role, as concerns CLVM (Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar). Pressed by the challenges of the contemporized international regulation of the international development assistance activities, Korea had to review its development assistance policy. The careful analysis shows that Korea’s ODA has grown substantially, but still lags behind, compared to other OECD member countries, while the country prefers bilateral to multilateral aid. The countries of CLVM rate on the top twenty list of the recipients of Korea’s ODA. The author strongly recommends that Korea should join the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) at the OECD; the country shall upgrade its ODA policy; the structure of the aid provided shall be transformed with greater portions of grant element and untied aid; Korea shall help the beneficiary countries of CLVM by providing them with experience and expertise as well.

The fifth couple of papers deal with ASEAN – Korea cooperation as for strengthening East Asian integration. Edy Prasetyono in his paper scrutinizes the possibilities of further development in ASEAN – Korea relations, as concerns security. This is an aspect of the cooperation, which due to the constellation of powers in the region and the dynamics of their relations, needs special attention. The central question Prasetyono tries to answer is if it is possible for the ASEAN – Korea impact on the security cooperation to strengthen East Asian integration. After reviewing the main hot spots and the main security challenges, most of which are related to the strategic predominance in the regional balance of powers as well as persistent old conflicts, the author gives his view about the development of ASEAN – Korea relations in this respect. Both Korea and ASEAN can contribute, being respectively a balancer and a mediator in the volatile relations in the region. However the precondition for such a development is to proceed and develop the integration processes in the region and to enhance further the commitment of ASEAN as a regional organization.

By drawing the general framework of the new regional co-operation in East Asia Bae Geung Chan analyzes the role ASEAN and Korea may play in this co-operation. There are canvassed the ASEAN plus Three cooperation and its initiatives as for the continuation of the integration processes throughout the region. One of the most important consequences is the East Asia Summit (EAS) as a measure on the roadmap to the establishment of an East Asian Community. However the initial idea of gradually transforming the ASEAN plus Three cooperation into the EAS had been soon abandoned. The author provides a realistic analysis of the three major powers with strategic interests in the region – China, Japan and the United States. One of the pre-conditions for successful regional integration, he argues, is the existence of a leading power within the region. Nevertheless neither China, nor Japan is in a position to take up this role. However it is the balance between these two powers that the success of the East Asian regional integration depends on. There is also room for the contribution of ASEAN itself, initially being the springboard for these efforts, and Korea, in view of its geopolitical position and potential for playing an intermediary role. Given the necessary institutional arrangements and power equilibrium the East Asian integration can be further advanced with a positive impact for the conflict prevention, economic cooperation and environmental protection.