1. Deputy Minister for Political Affairs Kim Gunn had a series of bilateral video conferences with ten delegates to the Senior Officials’ Meeting (SOM) of the ten member states of ASEAN, starting with a Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Brunei Darussalam on April 5 and ending with the Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Thailand on June 16. Deputy Minister Kim, together with the delegate of each ASEAN member state, shared information on the progress in COVID-19 response and discussed ways for cooperation with ASEAN amid the COVID-19 situation as well as its outlooks.
2. ASEAN being a significant cooperative partner of the Republic of Korea across the board, including political and economic affairs, the ROK government has been seeking to deepen and develop its relations with ASEAN through its New Southern Policy.
° ASEAN is the ROK’s second-largest trading partner after the People’s Republic of China, and its significance to the ROK has continued to grow, as can be seen from the fact that the number of mutual visitors between the two sides has increased rapidly, surpassing 12 million in 2019, on the back of the expanding economic cooperation and the spread of Hallyu (Korean Wave).
3. Deputy Minister Kim and his ASEAN counterparts expressed their pleasure over the opportunity to have a meeting at least in a video format, exchanged views on the developments and measures regarding COVID-19, and discussed ways for ASEAN-ROK cooperation mainly in the sectors of economy and health.
4. Deputy Minister Kim stressed that travel of essential workforce should be ensured in order to maintain supply chains in the region as well as an open multilateral order.
° Deputy Minister Kim extended appreciation to the ASEAN member states for their active cooperation on return home of Korean nationals as well as entry of Korean business people in exception to relevant restrictions, even amid their implementation of strict measures for disease prevention and control. The two sides discussed drawing up measures to grant entry exceptions to business people through which a balance is reached between quarantine efforts and economy.
5. The ASEAN delegates recognized the importance of exchanges of essential workforce for an early economic recovery, recalled that, since the ASEAN Plus Three Summit in April, increasingly active discussions have been underway in each country with regard to entry exceptions for entrepreneurs, and agreed to continue relevant consultations.
6. Deputy Minister Kim mentioned that the project designed to support ASEAN’s fight against COVID-19 with the ASEAN-ROK Cooperation Fund is swiftly underway and explained that, taking a cue from COVID-19, the ROK government will seek health cooperation as a core element of the New Southern Policy.
° The Deputy Minister added that the ROK is willing to support the ASEAN COVID-19 Response Fund, which has been set up to raise resources for the ASEAN countries’ responses to COVID-19.
7. The ASEAN officials highly commended the ROK government’s efforts to respond to COVID-19 and extended gratitude to the ROK government for its help to overcome COVID-19, including its provision of diagnostic kits, medical supplies and quarantine equipment. They added that they found it impressive that the ROK government has shared with the international community its experiences and knowhow in COVID-19 response through webinars and video conferences, and asked the ROK to continue sharing its experiences and policy in disease prevention and control.
8. The participants in the conferences agreed that the follow-up measures to the Special ASEAN Plus Three Summit on COVID-19 held on April 14 in a video format, which had served as a good opportunity to ensure the possibility of cooperation in the region in the face of the global threat of COVID-19, should be implemented faithfully.
9. Deputy Minister Kim and his ASEAN counterparts exchanged views on the follow-up measures regarding key bilateral issues discussed at the Commemorative Summit and bilateral summits held on its sidelines in 2019, and agreed on the need to resume high-level exchanges and normalize diplomacy.
10. The video conferences with the delegates to the ASEAN SOM carry significance in that they marked the start of diplomacy toward ASEAN even amid the difficult situation due to COVID-19 -- diplomacy that will continue until the summit in November 2020. It is also seen to have served as an opportunity for the ROK and ASEAN to overcome COVID-19 together and broaden the horizon of cooperation, as well as an opportunity to look into ways for the New Southern Policy to make substantial achievements.