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[Contribution] Envisioning sustainable and mutually beneficial future of ASEAN and Korea

Aug. 8, 2022 - 10:34 By Korea Herald
Ambassador Kim Hae-yong.(ASEAN-Korea Center)

Aug. 8th, 2022 is the 55th anniversary of the ASEAN’s foundation. Congratulations on ASEAN Day through this page. It is not an overstatement that ASEAN Member States have manifested their earnest efforts to seek peace and prosperity in the region since its establishment, overcoming unexpected obstacles over the past five and a half decades.

Last May, I had the chance to meet the president and vice president of a university in Vietnam, a member of “Passage to ASEAN Association,” which represents a network of 80 universities and colleges from ASEAN countries and consists of more than 1.2 million students. Along with an introduction of the university, they pinpointed on the need to increase exchanges among the youth and further deepen mutual understanding in order to accumulate future-oriented developments in ASEAN-Korea relations. Recognizing the bigger thirst on ASEAN’s end for youth exchanges from the meeting, the ASEAN-Korea Center also reaffirms the key role that our youth play in developing a genuine, sustainable and mutually beneficial cooperation between ASEAN and Korea.

Since the establishment of Sectoral Dialogue Partnership in 1989, ASEAN and Korea have made rapid developments over the years. All areas including trade, investment, culture and tourism, and people-to-people exchanges saw remarkable advancements especially after the agreement on the Joint Declaration on ASEAN-ROK Strategic Partnership for Peace and Prosperity in 2010. Although the two sides may have inevitably lost some traction due to the onset of COVID-19, stable figures in trade and investment depict much potential for recovery once the pandemic is settled.

With high hopes for recovery and aspiration for consolidation of the partnership, the role of youth can be much highlighted as they are the future players of ASEAN-Korea relations. ASEAN has very young and dynamic demographics, with the population under age 35 taking up 57 percent of the total. The role of youth is also highly valued by ASEAN, as seen through ASEAN Secretariat’s declaring year 2022 as the “Year of ASEAN Youth” under the chairmanship of Cambodia.

Against this backdrop of the growing importance of youth’s role, one of the most crucial assignments that lies ahead for the youth of ASEAN and Korea is perceiving one another as equal partners. For Koreans, ASEAN should not only be seen as a provider of tourist destinations, low-wage workers, or exotic food, but as a true friend who can support when in need. For ASEAN, Korea should be given greater value and perceived as a partner who shares common values, rather than just as a country with economic benefits or as a source of K-pop and K-drama. To alter such status quo into a more balanced perception for the future of ASEAN-Korea relations, the ASEAN-Korea Center is carrying out many efforts.

With the aim of understanding the current perceptions of ASEAN and Korean youth, the center conducted a survey toward the youth of the two regions last year. Some interesting findings were made in the survey. Both ASEAN and Korean youths viewed the future of ASEAN-Korea relations positively, showed encouraging favorability toward each other, and were also interested in one another. All the results showed promising outcomes for future partnership. Aiming to delve into details of such positive outlook, the center is carrying out the second phase of the survey this year.

Acknowledging that ASEAN youth residing in Korea can be one of the key players in shaping future relations, given their understanding and perception on both Korea and their home country, the center has been actively gathering and supporting the activities of the ASEAN Youth Network in Korea (AYNK) since its establishment in 2014. Particularly, activities conducted by AYNK contribute to the community building initiatives of ASEAN students in Korea, while at the same time also promote ASEAN and its culture more to Korean peers.

To stimulate dialogues and discussions on ASEAN-Korea relations and its future partnership, the center is preparing to hold the “2022 ASEAN-Korea Forum” this November, where scholars and policy makers from both ASEAN and Korea will engage with one another to exchange their views and ideas to develop strategies together for future relationship. In particular, a separate session will be dedicated to the youth, the future players of ASEAN-Korea relations, to share their fresh views and outlook, by inviting the winners of “ASEAN-Korea Academic Essay Contest,” which is one of the center’s core projects for ASEAN and Korean youths.

The opening of an “ASEAN Hall” in Jeju Island next month is also in line with these efforts. The ASEAN Hall in Jeju is an exhibition space showcasing culture and tourism-related items on ASEAN and Jeju. To provide information on ASEAN member states and ASEAN-Korea relations as well as insights into their culture, the Hall also offers digitalized self-service kiosks for a more vibrant visitor experience. Hopefully, this new exhibition hall can be used as a great venue for site visits especially among the youth and younger generation, thereby contributing to formulating a better sense of familiarity and understanding on ASEAN and ASEAN-Korea relations. As one of the most popular tourist destinations in Korea among both Koreans and international travelers from ASEAN, and a symbolic milestone for ASEAN-Korea relations, being the very location of the 1st ASEAN-ROK Commemorative Summit in 2009, the ASEAN Hall in Jeju is expected to contribute to increasing exposure of ASEAN to local Koreans and in enhancing a sense of ASEAN-Korea bond among ASEAN tourists.

Marking the 55th “ASEAN Day,” the ASEAN-Korea Center once again envisions a sustainable and mutually beneficial partnership between ASEAN and Korea, one that is shaped by vision of its future generations that genuinely values and appreciates one another. To that end, the ASEAN-Korea Center will steadfastly continue to keep up its efforts to deepen mutual understanding and promote greater awareness of ASEAN and Korean youth to one another.

By Ambassador Kim Hae-yong, Secretary General of ASEAN-Korea Center