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Date [ 2014-05-12, 12:31 ]

South Korea’s ambassador to Malaysia gives an insight to this region and beyond.

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Md Nasrudin, the Executive Director presents a memento to H.E. Cho byungjae.

(Kuala Lumpur=Koreanpress) RamaniRathir =The Asia-Europe Institute(AEI) has successfully established itself as one of Southeast Asia’s leading institutions for social science postgraduate research and teaching.

Established under the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) process with a philosophy of enhancing Asia-Europe relations, AEI aims to foster the exchange of students and scholars with a view to developing better understanding of the cultures, histories, politics, institutions, economics, business and legal practices of both regions.

The origins of AEI may be traced to the idea of establishing closer higher education linkages between Asia and Europe under the provisions of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) initiative in 1996.

The institute is running a series, called the Ambassadors Lecture Series and the latest was by South Korean Ambassador, H.E. Cho Byungjae. His lecture was entitled ‘Malaysia-Korea Win-Win Partnership.’

The Ambassador began by revealing,”When my friends found out my next posting was Malaysia, they congratulated me and said I was going to a very nice place. It rather sums up the title of my lecture today.“

Touching on the economic partnership, Cho pointed out that Korea’s forte was in manufacturing while that of Malaysia was in the service sector. The latter also had quality manpower, held a strategic position in the ASEAN arena and Islamic world.

Moving on to friendship, the Ambassador brought up the effect of K-Wave. “Korean drama, pop, cuisine and fashion have gained worldwide popularity, especially with the emergence of Psi and Gangnam.  Malaysia shines with its natural environment and cultural diversity. This has been great for People-to-People (P2P) exchange.”  This was followed by some video clips of South Korean images, from Psi to the Sewol tragedy.

The early years were next brought up. Many in the audience were surprised to learn that South Korea had had links with Malaysia as far back as the 19th century.  There were records of some 21 Korean students attending mission schools in Penang and Malacca.

In the 20th century came the independence struggle against Japan. It was heavily crushed and many fled to China, Russia and yes, even Malaysia. May 1, 1919 was taken as the Independent Movement Day, and Jung Won-Taeh was in the then Malaysia to raise funds. After WW II, Korea gained her independence in1945. Later from the 1960 – 70s, while Malaysia was involved in the Non-Aligned Movement, Korea was in the grip of the Cold War. Some 30 years later, Mahathir established the Look East Policy which began in March 1982 and went on till 2011.

During this time Japan and South Korea played pivotal roles in modernising Malaysia. Close to a total of 15,000 government officials and students visited Korea during this period.

From the 1980s to 90s, Malaysia began exporting oil and gas, electrical and electronic goods. Korea exported constructions and electrical and electronics. There were a lot of co-operation among regional institutions, and South Korea was an important builder of the Penang Bridge and the Petronas Twin Towers. These ran in tandem with political co-operation between the two countries.

In this century, diplomatic relations were strengthened with President Lee MyungBak visiting Malaysia in 2010. Two way trade reached USD20 billion. In investments, Korea put in 10.8 billion in Malaysia, with the latter investing 7.5 billion into Korea. In P2P exchange, 300,000 came over from Korea and 200,000 from Malaysia.

The Look East Policy 2.0 was mooted again and upon which the Malaysian government is currently working on. There was also more industrial co-operation in green, ICT and biotechnologies.

ASEAN is rich in human resources and Korea entered into a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in2007. It also placed a Permanent Representative in Jakarta in 2013. ASEAN has now become Korea’s second largest partner with a trade bill amounting to USD131 billion.  Korea too has pumped in Foreign Direct Investment to the tune of 4.3 billion in 2012.

Korea views ASEAN as important due to its 600 million population, a large market by any means. It has a GDP of USD2,339 billion and an economic growth of 5.7%, plus an abundance of natural resources.

Then there is ASEAN + 3 made up of Korea, China and Japan.  Going further, in the tie-ups with the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APE), East Asia Summit (EAS) and ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting (ADMMF), ASEAN occupies a central location.

Thus it pays to develop a good partnership with ASEAN and works well for peace and stability in the region. As a middle-level partner, Korea supports ASEAN in this century. The end result is a build-up of complementary economies and natural partners for co-operation.

Korea has also made overtures to other countries in the region. It has made FTA s with China, India, Australia and New Zealand in 2012, and earlier with Japan in 2010.  This has given Korea much diversity and access to strategic locations.

Ambassador Cho also touched on regional co-operation, mentioning, ”The 21st Century is the Pacific Century.” This is because APEC holds 40% of the world’s population, 52% of global GDP, 45% of global trade and has the Nos.1, 2 and 3 economies in it – the US, China and Japan.

China has risen to overtake Japan in 2010, with a GDP of USD9.182 billion and some say that it is even poised to overtake the US.  This could be the reason the US is rebalancing itself. Hilary Clinton has mentioned the intention to ‘Pivot to Asia’, and stating the American Pacific Century . The moves are related to forward diplomacy rebalancing by President Obama.

There is a resurgent  in Japan under PM Abe with such phrases as Abeinin  Power or Abenomics being bandied about. It has raised concerns with its action on positive pacifism, reinterpreting the Peace Constitution, relaxation of military export control, revision of history text books, territorial and historical rewriting of the East China Sea and South China Sea.

Cho also reiterated that an Asian Paradox had risen and the question was how to overcome it? It was a case of economic co-operation and interdependence facing political rivalry. There was a deficit of trust.

What were needed were confidence, institutional building and practice of consultancy on a P2P exchange. A new type of major power restructuring is reshaping between China and the USA. This started during the entry of Obama and we now have an existing superpower and an emerging one.  Confrontation should be avoided and co-operation is imperative for a better world.

Finally at 1 pm the lecture came to a close with the presentation of a token of appreciation to H.E. Cho Byungjae.

Seung Jin Kim, from the Department of East Asian Studies, UM, felt the lecture was fine.  Mian Tahir Ashraf, a PhD Candidate of AEI felt though it was a lecture that was just a summary, it was nevertheless insightful.


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