Meeting Moon Jae-In

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On 12th July, Choson Exchange was invited by Singaporean President Halimah Yacob to a State Dinner hosted for the visiting President of South Korea Moon Jae-In at the Istana. As the only NGO present at the event, we were honored and excited to have an opportunity to meet the man and his team that have been one of a small number of key figures central to changes in the geopolitical dynamics of northeast Asia. Just as Secretary Pompeo hoped that Singapore would provide the DPRK with ideas on how it can become a global and prosperous nation if it rejoins the community of nations, we were keen to hear what President Moon had in mind for ASEAN, Singapore and Vietnam (where our teams are based) as partners in peace on the Korean Peninsula.

Our colleague Tian Wen has put together the following summary of President Moon’s speech on the day after the State Dinner.

A Family of Peace and Lessons from Singapore and ASEAN : Moon Jae-In at the 42nd Singapore Lecture

On 13th July, South Korean president Moon Jae-In gave a speech at the 42nd Singapore Lecture to distinguished members of the civil service, academia, media and business community. Hosted by the ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute, the 42nd Singapore Lecture provides a platform for world leaders to speak on global and regional affairs; for president Moon, his was a message of peace for now and tomorrow.

Titled “ROK and ASEAN: Partners for Achieving Peace and Co-prosperity in East Asia”, Moon’s speech stressed a common desire for building and strengthening peace, recognised ASEAN’s importance in South Korean trade and investment, diplomacy and inter-regional peace-building, reiterated the need for greater commitment towards the North Korea denuclearisation process from both Washington and Pyongyang, and also emphasised the “constructive role” of  both ASEAN and Singapore in contributing towards inter-Korean peace and prosperity.

A Family of Peace

Hailing ASEAN as “ key to maintaining peace in Southeast Asia” and having “carved out a third way for regional cooperation” in an area so ethnically and religiously diverse, Moon  envisioned the multilateral organisation, which consists of 10 countries in Southeast Asia, as a “partner for working together to create a community of peace”. President Moon also appraised ASEAN-South Korea relations as a “family-like relationship beyond that of neighbours”.

South Korea currently enjoys strong bilateral trade and investment ties with a number of ASEAN member states; Moon’s speech is an optimistic sign of stronger bilateral, if not multilateral, collaboration between ASEAN and South Korea in future. Indeed, as part of Moon’s New Southern Policy, South Korea has already begun to channel a significant amount of investment into infrastructure projects and other regional initiatives within Southeast Asia. As of March 2018, South Korea continues to be Vietnam’s largest source of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI); In 2017, the country was also Indonesia’s 4th largest investor, with South Korean FDI  having risen by 25% in the first nine months of 2017.

Under previous administrations, South Korea had often included ASEAN as a regional bloc or engaged with only key states such as Indonesia; Moon’s New Southern Policy seeks to drive engagement at a deeper, people-to-people level.

And indeed, where ASEAN-South Korea relations are concerned, Moon’s speech not only highlighted the common historical experiences between ASEAN and South Korea, but also pointed out how both ASEAN and Singapore have contributed positively to inter-Korean peace and prosperity.

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An ASEAN - South Korea Framework for Peace

As a multilateral institution that provides extra-regional platforms for dialogue, ASEAN offers many potential opportunities for bringing North Korea into the international sphere. As the only multilateral forum that North Korea participates in, the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) “has become an important window of communication between Pyongyang and the international community” since 2000. This is especially important given North Korea’s severe isolation after years of political confrontation and economic sanctions; given ASEAN’s emphasis on the principle of non-interference, North Korea would also be more willing to engage in dialogue within what it feels to be a more politically neutral space.

North Korea’s participation in consultative bodies, regional and international frameworks is needed to not only strengthen relations between ASEAN and the Korean peninsula, but also create new avenues for cooperation and exchange on a broader level.

Additionally, Moon expressed hope that the upcoming Asian Games held in Indonesia in August this year will be “a place for reconciliation that contributes to peace on the Korean peninsula”, just as the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics had been.

ASEAN’s role as a cornerstone of a framework for inter-Korean peace transcends opportunities for mutual engagement: ASEAN fostered stronger inter-Korean economic cooperation by applying the same tariff rates to goods manufactured in the Kaesong Industrial Complex as it does to conventional South Korean goods under the Korea-ASEAN FTA; following “denuclearisation”, it is hoped that “the once vibrant economic cooperation between ASEAN and North Korea” will be revived.

Lessons from the Singapore Experience

South Korea’s and Singapore’s histories tell a similar story — impoverished, Third World-nations with only their people as their source of strength, achieving “economic miracles” that took them to the forefront of global economic prosperity. Despite this common experience, Moon’s speech also lavished much praise on Singapore’s achievements.

Citing the nation-state as a veritable leader in “advancing peace and prosperity in [Southeast Asia]”, Moon highlighted key elements that defined Singapore’s success: multiethnic and multicultural unity and harmony, pragmatism over ideology, unparalleled integrity and bold ingenuity, many of which Moon felt South Korea could learn from. By extension, South Korea can apply these elements in shaping inter-Korean cooperation.

Moon did not highlight only domestic elements of  Singapore’s “Miracle on the Equator”; he also lauded Singapore’s efforts to create and protect peace amidst the political turbulence of the Cold War and Konfrontasi. Chief among these efforts was the creation and eventual expansion of ASEAN, which played an integral role in fostering regional cooperation and stability. According to Moon, the lessons drawn from Singapore’s experience --  the creation of a community for peace, commitment to mutual prosperity and cooperation via multilateral consultation --now inform key aspects of Seoul’s policies regarding peace and international cooperation.

Faithful in Singapore’s unwavering support in “[South Korea’s] efforts to achieve [peace by denuclearisation on the Korean Peninsula]”, President Moon also expressed optimism towards “Singapore and ASEAN maintaining their constructive roles [in the peace process]”. The issue of North Korea’s denuclearisation is one that has implications on peace and prosperity in the ASEAN region -- Moon’s speech also reiterated the need for greater proactiveness and commitment from all stakeholders involved, including Singapore and ASEAN.

In a sense, the 42nd Singapore Lecture evokes the adage, “the past is the key to the future”. In taking a leaf from Singapore’s, and ASEAN’s, experience, the two Koreas can better design a roadmap for not only resolving the world’s last Cold War rivalry, but also ensure sustainable peace in time to come.

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