(ATTN: UPDATES with Charles Michel's comments in paras 20-21)
By Lee Chi-dong
SEOUL, June 30 (Yonhap) -- The leaders of South Korea and the European Union agreed Tuesday to reinforce bilateral partnerships in response to the COVID-19 crisis and preparations for a new era led by the fourth industrial revolution, as the two sides commemorate the 10th anniversary of formally becoming strategic partners.
In a videoconference, President Moon Jae-in had discussions with EU Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on the pandemic and various other topics of mutual concern. The top EU officials commended South Korea for its "proactive and innovative" steps to counter the virus in a "transparent, open and democratic way."
They stressed the importance of strengthened response capacities and enhanced information sharing, according to a joint press release summing up the results of their talks.
"The Republic of Korea and the EU will seek to strengthen cooperation in this regard, involving the respective health authorities and centers for disease control," the leaders stated, using South Korea's official name.
They reaffirmed their determination to "restore robust economic growth and build more resilient, sustainable and inclusive economies and societies," the document showed.
In that regard, it added, "Green transition and digital transformation will be integrated into their recovery strategies."
The Moon administration has already declared a push for the so-called Korean version of the New Deal aimed at fostering economic growth and creating jobs.
Moon put forward two main pillars of the project -- one is the Green New Deal on promoting environmentally friendly energy use, and the other the Digital New Deal to focus on expanding digital infrastructure. The government plans to unveil details of relevant strategies in July.
For South Korea, the EU is a potential key partner in the initiative.
"I think that it would be the most important task to bolster cooperation in the climate change and digital economy fields in getting ready for the future together," Moon said at the outset of the session, which pool reporters were allowed to cover.
The two sides boast a decadelong "strategic partnership" underpinned by a trio of major pacts: a Framework Agreement, a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and a Framework Participation Agreement for EU crisis management operations.
The president noted, "This year is a meaningful year to become the 10th year since South Korea and the EU established the strategic partnership."
Moon described the FTA as playing a "strut" role for their economic cooperation.
South Korea and the EU, however, have a pending issue to resolve in connection with the implementation of the FTA.
The EU has urged South Korea to ratify some core conventions of the International Labor Organization (ILO), while the business community here says it's premature for the Northeast Asian nation to do so before introducing sufficient legal measures to deal properly with illicit strikes and other collective actions by workers.
The liberal Moon government is seeking to get three ILO conventions ratified by the National Assembly, which are No. 87 on freedom of association, No. 98 on the right to organize and collective bargaining and No. 29 on the prohibition of forced labor.
"The EU leaders encouraged the Republic of Korea to make continued efforts to take relevant measures on labor issues, including the ratification of the fundamental ILO Conventions," the statement read.
Moon and the EU officials also talked about the security situation on the Korean Peninsula.
"The EU affirmed its support to the Republic of Korea's efforts to engage with DPRK to achieve peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula," it said. DPRK is the acronym of North Korea's official name, Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
Also Tuesday, Michel said in a news conference after the summit that the EU has serious concerns about heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
Michel also urged North Korea and the United States to resume talks on ending North Korea's nuclear programs.
The virtual session marked Moon's first bilateral summit of the year and also his first official dialogue with the new EU leadership that assumed office last December.
The EU leaders were scheduled to visit South Korea in May for a face-to-face summit with Moon. But they canceled the trip due to the spread of the coronavirus and instead proposed holding a videoconference first.
The two sides said they are looking forward to holding a "summit meeting in Seoul in the near future when conditions will allow."
In October 2010, South Korea and the EU signed their FTA and established the strategic partner relationship.
South Korea is one of the EU's 10 strategic partners, along with the United States, Japan, China, Brazil, Russia, India, Canada, Mexico and South Africa.
Meanwhile, Cheong Wa Dae set up a special venue at the main building of the presidential compound for Moon's summit with the EU leaders and similar bilateral video sessions with other foreign leaders down the road.
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