President Moon Jae-in’s ASEAN trip to Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos this week, could not have come at a better time as a wider scope of diplomacy is required now more than ever.
"Under the situation where the global value chain is being reshuffled due to the U.S.-China trade war and Japan’s trade restrictions, ASEAN and India have greater strategic significance as not only a global production base, but a consumer market and direct investment market."
President Moon began his ASEAN trip looking to gather support from Southeast Asian nations regarding the trade dispute with Japan.
In an interview with the Bangkok Post prior to the trip, Moon emphasized that Korea and ASEAN need to unite against the spread of trade protectionism.
And that was indeed on the table when the president held talks with his counterparts in Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos.
According to the presidential advisor for economic affairs Joo Hyung-chul, ASEAN countries also want economic advancement through free trade.
During the talks, they shared the belief that a fair, free trade order needs to be maintained.
But there will be competition for Southeast Asian nations' support, as Japan has already established a large influence in those areas over many years.
The presidential advisor says competition and cooperation with Japan will have to coexist, if Korea wishes to keep a strong presence in the area.
Nonetheless, Korea was successful in securing a wide range of cooperation with the three nations, as part of President Moon's efforts to reduce Korea's economic dependence on Japan.
Korea and Thailand agreed to increase exchanges in technology related to the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
And while Korea has notified Japan that it will not extend their military intel sharing pact, it signed a similar agreement with Thailand this week, with Seoul and Bangkok agreeing to increase bilateral cooperation in defense and military intelligence.
Korea also agreed to jointly develop infrastructure in Myanmar.
The two countries are working on a joint industrial complex, where Korean companies get easier access to the Myanmar market, in return for their investment.
And in Laos, President Moon announced his vision for expanded ties between Korea and the Mekong region, agreeing to help develop infrastructure along the Mekong River.
All three nations also reaffirmed their support for the Moon administration's efforts to establish complete denuclearization and lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula.
"President Moon Jae-in is now the first South Korean leader to visit all ten ASEAN nations. The partnership he built with the South East Asian nations will be foundational when Korea hosts the South Korea-ASEAN special summit and the South Korea-Mekong summit in November. Park Hee-jun, Arirang News, Vientiane."