South Korean President Moon Jae-in is to visit Laos between September 5 and 6 in a move that would further facilitate the country’s new policy designed to deepen ties with Southeast Asia.
President Moon is expected to meet the Lao President Bounnhang Vorachith and Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith during his visit.
Among the main issues to be discussed are partnerships in hydroelectric power and Seoul’s efforts to improve the living of Lao people.
Laos will be his last destination after his visit to Thailand and Myanmar, where he spent three days each with country leaders.
South Korea has endeavored hard to push for a new policy dubbed “New Southern Policy,” which is designed to improve its ties with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and to broaden Seoul’s diplomatic base.
South Korea’s need to shift its focus toward increasing ties with ASEAN comes has been highlighted more significantly in recent years.
The South has been gradually under pressure to pick a side as the United States pursues the Indo-Pacific strategy, while China pushes for its own One Belt One Road Initiative.
The latest trade war between the US and China also took a toll on South Korea’s export-driven economy. The US and China are Seoul’s two major trading partners, accounting for 39 percent of its exports in 2018.
The South expects to use the new policy as a diplomatic tool to expand its space for diplomatic maneuvering and mitigate the impact on its economy and diplomacy resulted from intensifying conflicts between the US and China.
The ASEAN bloc is South Korea’s second-largest trading partner, with the two-way trade volume totaling USD 149.1 billion in 2017. The South plans to further increase two-way volume to USD 200 billion and the number of visitors to 15 million by 2020.
Seoul has also increased cooperation with ASEAN nations in the military sector. South Korea and ASEAN countries held vice-ministerial talks to discuss defense cooperation on the sidelines of the Seoul Defense Dialogue in September last year, for instance.
By Taejun Kang