Southeast Asia is one of South Korea's closest neighbors, geographically, economically and socially.
The two first established a partial partnership in 1989 and upgraded it to a full dialogue partnership in 1991, and now ASEAN is South Korea's second-largest trading partner and third-largest investment market.
As of 2018, the trade volume between South Korea and ASEAN reached over 159-billion U.S. dollars. Exports from Korea to ASEAN amounted to around 100-billion dollars, while imports from ASEAN to Korea were more than 59-billion dollars.
Seoul is bolstering its ties with a broader regional bloc as well.
In early November, South Korea, ASEAN, and other key partners including China, Japan and Australia reached an agreement in Bangkok over the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.
- Nov. 4, 2019
"At a critical time when protectionism is threatening the global economy, we agreed on the significance of the free, open and rule-based RCEP more than at any other time."
Experts stress the importance of diversifying partners, especially with ASEAN, amid growing global uncertainties.
"Under the U.S.-China's intensified competition, and we're also facing the Japan's trade disputes, under those circumstances, we need alternatives productions. () We need ASEAN as main partner."
The two sides have been also expanding cultural ties. For more exchanges, the ASEAN-Korea Centre was established in Seoul in 2009 and the ASEAN Culture House opened in Busan in 2017.
In 2018, nearly 9-million South Koreans visited ASEAN countries as Southeast Asia is a popular tourist destination for Koreans. Going the other way, more than 2-million people from ASEAN visited Korea last year.
"We're emphasizing the importance of people-to-people exchanges and heart-to-heart exchanges. In that regard, K-pop, K-drama, K-food and K-beauty are popular in ASEAN countries."
Some experts also point out the possibility of three-way cooperation by both South Korea, North Korea and ASEAN in the future, as Pyeongyang has been also maintaining its partnership with ASEAN.
Yoon Jung-min, Arirang News.