(ATTN: UPDATES with remarks by Moon, Mahathir, other details from 2nd para; ADDS photo)
By Lee Chi-dong
SEOUL, Nov. 28 (Yonhap) -- South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad agreed Thursday to elevate relations between their countries to a "strategic partnership" next year, noting that bilateral ties have deepened in various fields, such as cutting-edge industries, energy, arms projects, health care and the environment.
"Malaysia's Look East Policy and South Korea's New Southern Policy have complemented (each other) harmoniously," Moon told the prime minister at the start of their Cheong Wa Dae talks in Seoul, which pool reporters were allowed to cover.
Thus, Moon said, cooperation between the two nations are expanding as shown in response to the fourth industrial revolution, smart city and halal industries to the point that people can actually feel the impact.
He expressed hope for further development of partnerships in such specific sectors as ICT, defense industry, health care, and small and medium-sized firms.
The president lauded Mahathir for leading Malaysia's dynamic growth with insight into the future and strategic approaches, saying, "Asia respects you as ASEAN's wise person." Moon asked him to share his wisdom on peace on the Korean Peninsula.
In response, the prime minister reaffirmed his support for Seoul's initiative to transform the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) bisecting Korea into an international peace zone.
"If it's established, South-North tensions will be reduced clearly," he told Moon.
He welcomed the New Southern Policy of the Moon administration aimed at improving South Korea's relations with ASEAN and India to a level equivalent to its ties with the four regional powers: the United States, China, Japan and Russia.
"South Korea and ASEAN will get closer thanks to the New Southern Policy," Mahathir said. "ASEAN countries want to learn a lot from South Korea's experience on rapid growth."
He added the ASEAN-Republic of Korea Commemorative Summit, held in Busan earlier this week, has helped move forward bilateral relations.
Mahathir arrived in Seoul on Wednesday for a two-day official visit after attending the group session in the port city, located 450 kilometers southeast of the capital, along with Moon. It's his first official trip to South Korea since his reelection last year.
In 2020, he noted, South Korea and Malaysia will celebrate the 60th anniversary of establishing formal diplomatic ties. He hoped that Malaysia's king, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, would be able to visit South Korea around the third quarter of next year.
He also hailed Seoul's offer to lift bilateral relations to a strategic partnership on the occasion of the anniversary and expected related details to be discussed at working-level meetings.
In a post-summit press release, Moon's office said the leaders pointed out that bilateral relations have spread beyond trade and investment to "forward-looking" partnerships.
In that regard, they "reached a deal in principle" to upgrade South Korea-Malaysia ties to a strategic partnership," according to Cheong Wa Dae.
The leaders shared the view that it is important to introduce a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) to accelerate "economic solidarity" between the two sides. They agreed to continue efforts toward signing a "high-level, mutually beneficial" deal on the basis of the relevant negotiations held so far.
Moon requested Malaysia's unswerving support and cooperation in connection with the Korea peace process.
Moon said South Korea will cooperate actively with Malaysia so that it can successfully host the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit next year.
Following the summit, Moon and Mahathir attended the signing ceremony for four memorandums of understanding (MOUs) on promoting cooperation on information and communications technology, digital government, health care and medical science, and water and sewage management. They had an official lunch together.
The Cheong Wa Dae summit was a follow-up to their one-on-one talks in Kuala Lumpur during Moon's trip there in March.
For Moon, it marked the finale of his intensive ASEAN-related diplomacy this week.
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