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(News Focus) Lee accelerates bid to boost cooperation with Southeast Asia

All Headlines 11:00 November 22, 2011

By Chang Jae-soon

MANILA, Nov. 22 (Yonhap) -- President Lee Myung-bak used his just-ended trip to Southeast Asia to reach out to a region that officials say will help power South Korea's economic growth, unveiling a series of initiatives to demonstrate that Seoul cares about the bloc.

Lee started off a two-nation trip to the region with a visit to the Indonesian resort island of Bali for a string of annual meetings with the leaders of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and related summits.

Lee later made a state visit to the Philippines for talks with President Benigno Aquino III.

ASEAN is South Korea's second-largest trade partner after China, and its second-largest investment destination after the European Union. The region is also an important source of energy and other resources for South Korea and sits on key maritime routes that the country uses to bring foreign resources home.

The 10 ASEAN members are Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Brunei.

In the Korea-ASEAN summit, Lee announced that South Korea will establish a new diplomatic mission in Jakarta in the first half of next year to deal exclusively with cooperation with ASEAN. The Indonesian capital is home to the ASEAN secretariat and the move underlines the importance Seoul attaches to relations with the region.

Lee and other ASEAN leaders also agreed to step up efforts to further increase their already brisk trade, which is expected to reach a record high this year. The two sides have a goal to expand bilateral trade to US$150 billion by 2015, and in Friday's summit, they agreed to reach the goal earlier than scheduled.

A free trade agreement between the sides have been in place since 2007.

Lee also told other ASEAN leaders that South Korea will continue to help the partner nations strengthen their economic development capabilities.

In a bilateral summit with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Lee reaffirmed Seoul's intention to participate as a main partner in Indonesia's economic development blueprint, known as the "Master Plan," which calls for making the country the world's ninth-largest economy by 2025.

The two nations agreed to set up a joint secretariat this year to facilitate cooperation for the plan.

In particular, Lee also briefed the ASEAN leaders on his project to refurbish South Korea's four major rivers in a way that prevents floods, and said Seoul is willing to share the experience with other ASEAN nations.

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, whose leadership was tested in recent massive floods in Bangkok, showed special interest in the river project, telling Lee she wants to visit South Korea to learn from the country's know-how in anti-flood measures, officials said.

On the sidelines of ASEAN summits, Lee also held three-day talks with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, with the North Korean nuclear standoff among the key topics.

The three leaders agreed in principle that the standoff should be resolved early.

Lee stressed that Pyongyang should halt all illegal nuclear activities and pledge to not restart them if the stalled six-party talks are to resume, a demand that Seoul, Washington and Japan has repeatedly made in efforts to ensure the communist nation is serious about denuclearization.

Noda agreed with Lee, accusing Pyongyang of showing no change in its attitude despite a series of bilateral negotiations with South Korea and the U.S. and stressing that the six-party talks can succeed only when the North is serious about giving up its nuclear ambitions.

Wen talk a different stance, calling only for restarting the six-party talks at an early date, the official said. That is similar to Pyongyang's call for reopening the nuclear talks without preconditions.

China is the North's last-remaining major ally and provider of aid and diplomatic support.

Lee later visited the Philippines for a state visit, which focused on providing economic assistance to the nation that sent troops to fight alongside the South during the 1950-53 Korean War.

The Philippines is the only Southeast Asian nation that participated in the war, dispatching the fourth-largest contingent among 16 allied nations under a U.N. resolution. A total of 7,420 Filipino troops fought in the conflict, with 112 of them killed and a further 299 wounded.

On the sidelines of a summit between Lee and Aquino, the two sides signed five economic cooperation agreements to provide the Southeast Asian nation with aid and low-interest loans and to jointly carry out projects to build a dam, a power plant and an agricultural complex.

They include an agreement that calls for providing Manila with up to US$500 million in economic development cooperation funds (EDCF) between 2011-2013 and a deal on a $300 million project to build a multi-purpose dam on the Jalaur River in the southern province of Iloilo.


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