(ATTN: UPDATES with more info in 18-21 paras)
By Lee Chi-dong
SEOUL, Nov. 12 (Yonhap) -- President Moon Jae-in on Tuesday emphasized the significance of two upcoming summits with Southeast Asian nations in Busan for his administration's signature New Southern Policy, as he had a weekly Cabinet meeting at the venue in the southern port city.
He pointed out that the ASEAN-Republic of Korea Commemorative Summit, slated for Nov. 25-26, will be the biggest multilateral summit to be held in South Korea under his government.
"It's also an important diplomatic event for the co-prosperity of South Korea and ASEAN," he said at the opening of the session held at Busan Exhibition and Convention Center, known as BEXCO.
The group summit is to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the dialogue partnership between the two sides.
Also, the inaugural Mekong-Republic of Korea Summit is scheduled to take place there on Nov. 27 involving five nations: Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. The Republic of Korea is South Korea's official name, and ASEAN is the acronym of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Moon described the summits as a midterm review of the New Southern Policy that was introduced in 2017.
He cited two major changes in his administration's diplomacy from that of previous ones.
"One is to pursue a resolution to the Korean Peninsula issue through dialogue and diplomacy," he said. "And the other is to make a big leap in diplomatic and trade relations with ASEAN, not sticking to existing diplomacy focused on four major powers." He was referring to the United States, China, Japan and Russia.
As part of the initiative, Moon added, his government has endeavored constantly to improve ties with ASEAN members. He has already kept his promise to visit all 10 ASEAN countries during his presidency.
Last week, he attended an annual ASEAN Plus Three summit, an East Asia Summit session and an ensuing summit on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) in Bangkok.
He said it's very meaningful that RCEP negotiating nations reached an accord during the session.
"The RCEP is the world's largest mega free trade agreement, which covers half of the world's population and accounts for a third of gross domestic product and 30 percent of trade," he said.
If India joins the signing of the deal expected next year, it would be far more meaningful, he added.
The president said it's imperative to promote free trade not just for South Korea's economy but also for a win-win with ASEAN.
"In that sense, the RCEP agreement will serve as a chance for improving trade and investment conditions between South Korea and ASEAN and accelerating the New Southern Policy," Moon stressed. "The New Southern Policy is a key to the national development of the Republic of Korea."
He asked for attention and support from residents in Busan, his hometown, and from those in other regions for the successful hosting of the summits.
"Busan is a gateway to sea and air routes to reach ASEAN," he said, mentioning South Korea's ambitious vision of being a bridge linking continents and oceans via the New Southern Policy, as well as the New Northern Policy designed to improve economic ties with Russia and nearby countries located north of Korea.
But Moon did not mention the possibility of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un visiting Busan.
The government has invited Kim to the ASEAN summit as an observer. But the outlook for his trip remains slim, given stalled denuclearization talks between the United States and North Korea and strained inter-Korean ties.
But Cheong Wa Dae does not appear to be ruling out such a possibility.
"There have been no tangible progress, but working-level officials are said to be preparing for the summits while leaving all possibilities open," a senior presidential official told reporters Monday.
It was Moon's third Cabinet meeting outside the Cheong Wa Dae presidential compound. In late February, he presided over a session at the Kim Koo Museum in Seoul ahead of the 100th anniversary of the March 1, 1919, Movement against Japan's colonial rule.
In September, he presided over a Cabinet meeting at the Post-Silicon Semiconductor Institute of the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) in the capital to show the government's resolve to support the domestic production of core industrial materials amid a trade fight with Japan.
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