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Editorial Letter

By Hoo Chiew-Ping 

Following the publication of The New Southern Policy: Catalyst for Deepening ASEAN-ROK Relations on 29 September 2020, there remained several aspects of ASEAN and Republic of Korea (ROK, hereafter South Korea) relations that were not covered in the book. This Special Edition of ISIS Focus aims to provoke conversations among Malaysian scholars and researchers about New Southern Policy (NSP) 2.0, especially in the non-conventional areas of environmental cooperation and South Korea’s cultural soft power as well as public health diplomacy, considering its success in managing the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The theme of this Special Edition reflects the changing nature of our international system wrecked by the current pandemic. The movement of goods and people, supply chains and patterns of globalisation for the past three decades have all been profoundly transformed by the pandemic. These changes affect the key pillars of People, Prosperity and Peace, which are fundamental to the NSP. Even after the eradication of COVID-19, resumption of travel and normalisation of exchanges, we will still have to live with a “new normal” and develop new ways of fostering cooperation. 

Against the backdrop of the ongoing pandemic, Siti Atiqah highlights the need for two-way concrete efforts by ASEAN and South Korea to solidify their partnership by enhancing mutual acceptance, addressing human security issues in ASEAN and pushing for closer ASEAN-ROK cooperation in public health. Farlina, Ariane and Sinatra examine the attractiveness of soft power and how it has reinvigorated South Korea’s creative economy. While there are obvious challenges for ASEAN to overcome, the spirit of embracing cultural uniqueness and the soft power feature of the middle powers will help ASEAN Member States (AMS) set their long-term goals. 

Elaborating on the soft power theme, Khor considers how South Korea is leading the test kit diplomacy on the world stage and why its public health model is an example that can be shared with AMS to catalyse change in the institutionalisation of Southeast Asia’s public health. If ASEAN had a regional convenor for health infrastructure, it would have connected better with South Korea’s information and technological expertise in healthcare. 

Helena observes how South Korea’s Green New Deal policy developed from the necessity to revitalise the economy and re-establish connectivity via digital and sustainable policies. This domestic post-pandemic economic recovery policy, if converged successfully with the NSP, will generate tremendous synergy in constructing an eco-friendly economic vehicle, which will also instil good practices of environmental governance that the world has long ignored. 

The increased demand for digitalisation will hasten the momentum of ASEAN and South Korea’s partnership in the Smart Cities Network. Moonyati and Harris identify the gaps and core areas where ASEAN needs to keep up with South Korea’s smart city programmes, and the pressing needs for realising the 2019 Busan Summit’s agreement on strengthening cooperation and partnership in this area. Additionally, Harris states that there are numerous ways South Korea can provide more space for the Mekong countries to navigate the multi-pronged environmental, economic and political challenges in the face of geopolitical pressure from the great powers. However, it comes down to whether sufficient intra-ASEAN solidarity can be fostered to overcome internal divisions. 

While Izzah recognises ASEAN’s need to overcome its internal problems before forging a meaningful and deeper partnership with South Korea, Lee argues that – in a world where the major powers cannot or will not shape a credible global order – a coalition of such small and middle powers as ASEAN and South Korea must shape a new global order, without being entrapped by the intensifying rivalry. Arguing for a small and middle power coalition’s agency, Geetha suggests Seoul-ASEAN-Pyongyang Pyramidal Cooperation as ASEAN and South Korea find their way out of the great power rivalry. 

I wish to congratulate all contributors for their submissions that have made this Special Edition an exemplary one, initiating provocative and frank discussions, while projecting substantive ideas for mitigating the risks and bridging the gaps in the existing ASEAN-ROK partnership. It is clear that with intensifying great power rivalry coupled with uncertainties brought about by the pandemic, the way forward is to further deepen inter-regional cooperation on multi-tracks to ensure the success of post-pandemic recovery and to build common resilience via enhanced connectivity. 


Time for New Southern Policy to Deliver
by Siti Atiqah Mokhter 

Fostering cooperation in the areas of culture, human security and managing the pandemic could elevate the quality of the ASEAN-ROK relations, according to Siti Atiqah Mokhter 

Hallyu and the Creative Industry – Can ASEAN Replicate South Korea’s Success?
by Farlina Said, Puteri Nor Ariane Yasmin and Muhammad Sinatra 

ASEAN can learn a thing or two from South Korea’s creative industry, which achievements are a manifestation of its potent soft power. It is just not going to be easy. Farlina Said, Puteri Nor Ariane Yasmin and Muhammad Sinatra explain 

Soft Power from Test Kits
by Khor Swee Keng 

COVID-19 presents South Korea with opportunities to incorporate health diplomacy into its geo-strategic goals, but can ASEAN benefit from these? Khor Swee Kheng answers 

ASEAN-ROK Cooperation Under the Green New Deal: Reducing Emissions and Air Pollution
By Helena Varkkey 

Helena Varkkey writes on expanding the New Southern Policy’s focus through cooperation in two areas: eco-friendly vehicles and environmental governance 

Smart Cities: How Can ASEAN Keep in Step with Seoul?
by Moonyati Mohd Yatid and Harris Zainul 

Moonyati Mohd Yatid and Harris Zainul look at some ways that South Korea can assist and support Southeast Asia with smart city development 

4 Ways South Korea Can Make A Difference in the Mekong
by Harris Zainul 

Seoul can contribute to resolve the Mekong subregion’s outstanding challenges. Harris Zainul proposes a few measures 

Geopolitical Considerations for ASEAN-ROK Relations
by Izzah Khairina Ibrahim 

Internal issues must be addressed before ASEAN can improve its strategic cooperation with South Korea, states Izzah Khairina Ibrahim

New Southern Policy in G-Zero World
by Lee Jaehyon 

The failure of great powers, namely the United States and China, to lead the world calls for small and medium powers to fill the void, says Lee Jaehyon 

Seoul-ASEAN-Pyongyang Pyramidal Cooperation
by Geetha Govindasamy 

Geetha Govindasamy highlights ASEAN’s strategic role as a peace broker in the Korean Peninsula 

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