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The 2nd ASEAN-ROK Think Tank Dialogue – Seeking deeper areas of cooperation through the ‘New Southern Policy’

08 Oct The 2nd ASEAN-ROK Think Tank Dialogue – Seeking deeper areas of cooperation through the ‘New Southern Policy’

The ASEAN Institutes of Strategic and International Studies (ASEAN-ISIS) and Republic of Korea (ROK) think tanks convened virtually on Tuesday, 6 October 2020, for the 2nd ASEAN-ROK Think Tank Dialogue. The dialogue entitled: “ASEAN-ROK Relations Into a New Decade: Towards A Joint Strategic Vision” was timely against a backdrop of new global and regional dynamics, fuelled by the COVID-19 pandemic and intensifying US-China rivalry.

The first session was open to the public and the discussion surrounded perspectives and implications for ASEAN and ROK in the strategic context amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The second and final sessions were closed door discussions that focused on providing input for the ROK’s ‘New Southern Policy’ and what might be on the agenda for ROK-ASEAN cooperation.

More can be done to improve ASEAN-ROK relations

As the chair of the ASEAN-ISIS network this year, Associate Professor Simon Tay, Chairman of the SIIA, joined the panel providing opening remarks and speaking in the first session. He recapitulated the importance of ‘track 2’ dialogues where think tanks are able to bring in policy ideas that are ahead of the curve. Professor Tay emphasised the importance of trust as international relations increasingly come under stress, due to closed borders and great power rivalry. In this challenging environment, ASEAN unity and integration are ever more important and “collective leadership” with small and middle powers such as the ROK remain vital for ASEAN countries.

Although ASEAN-ROK relations have improved, more can be done to deepen cooperation such as enhancing regional supply chains, investing in infrastructure, working on digital connectivity, and upskilling workers for ASEAN to move up the value chain. Discussants also highlighted the need to focus on strategic and security cooperation. The ASEAN Outlook on the Indo Pacific (AOIP) was highlighted as an area to work on and explore projects to improve maritime cooperation.

4IR and ASEAN’s Digital Ambitions

Many of the discussants alluded to how the COVID-19 has accelerated the transition towards the digital economy. With the ASEAN digital economy expected to grow rapidly in the next decade, adding an estimated $1 trillion to the region’s GDP, there are a lot of opportunities for mutual cooperation with the ROK as a top player in the technological space.

Some of these opportunities include joint research in developing artificial intelligence and other fourth industrial revolution (4IR) sectors, improving digital infrastructure and strengthening online protections in cybersecurity. Incorporating digital tools and solutions would affect the competitiveness of economies with processes sped up and upgraded in sectors such as manufacturing and services. Smart technology can also be enhanced in the health sector, which has become a focal point due to the pandemic, especially in the area of contact tracing capabilities that would help speed up the opening up of borders.

People to people exchanges

The original ROK’s New Southern Policy (NSP) was centred on the three Ps of: “People, Prosperity and Peace”. It was acknowledged that there has been a steady increase in mutual trade and bilateral visits. While the pandemic has paused the movement of people across borders, discussants focused on long-term plans to consolidate mutual trust and strengthen people-centred cooperation in health, education and culture. The idea of an Internet of Things (IoT) centre in ASEAN was raised as a potential area of collaboration to foster an exchange of ideas and expertise.