South Korea, the seventh country to join the 20-50 club (GDP per capita over US$20,000 and a population of 50 million), lies at the geopolitical centre of Northeast Asia, acting as a bridge which mediates the interests of advanced economies with those of developing ones.
As a pioneering middle power of Asia, South Korea is willing and able to overcome the challenges of an ageing population, and the North–South division, to make a significant contribution to the peaceful development, shared prosperity, and advancement of democracy and human rights in Asia.
The newly inaugurated Park Geun-hye administration is expected to pursue policies which envision a proactive role for Korea in creating a better future for Asia. South Korea will continue to expand the free trade regime with China, Japan, Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand while promoting sustainable growth by sharing its experience and knowledge of successful development with Asia’s developing nations. The drive for a trilateral free trade agreement between South Korea, China and Japanwill be the key to the achievement of a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership in East Asia.
Furthermore, South Korea’s principled response to North Korea’s threats to global security and peace will be conducted with patience and prudence so as to protect the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia. President Park proposed a dialogue to ‘build trust’ with Pyongyang while maintaining strong deterrence against North Korea. Despite North Korea’s security threats and brinkmanship strategy, South Korea’s efforts for the peaceful unification of the Korean peninsula will continue through deterrence, dialogue, and diplomacy.
South Korea will also take an active part in regional dispute resolution, multilateral cooperation and regional integration; it is already an active member of ASEAN+3, the ASEAN Regional Forum, APEC and the East Asia Summit. South Korea is one of the most successful democracies in Asia with an exemplary human rights record, and currently there is a lively discussion on economic democratisation in Korea as a way of protecting the socially vulnerable. The protection of North Korean refugees and transnational human security are also high up on the public agenda.
Korea is making headway on green growth, carbon emission reduction and renewable energy development strategies. It will also lead international cooperation to upgrade the safety of atomic energy in Asia. The Nuclear Security Summit held in Seoul in 2012 focused on nuclear safety and terrorism, and the Korea–China–Japan Trilateral Cooperation Secretariat based in Seoul has been discussing ways to create a nuclear-safe environment in the region.
Finally, South Korea is playing its part in global harmony and mutual understanding through the rising popularity of its unique and dynamic entertainment and culture, or ‘Korean Wave’. Within Korea’s rapidly changing society, the values of cultural diversity are becoming part of the norm.
Korea and Australia, as like-minded middle powers in the Asia Pacific, should continue to strengthen their partnership given their various fields of common interest. These include the enhancement of sustainable development through free trade in the Asia Pacific; regional cooperation for stability, peace and prosperity in Asia; promotion of democracy and human rights; green growth and energy cooperation; and cultural communication. The two nations must work together in a substantial and productive partnership to open a new chapter of world history — the Asian century.
Dr Jin Park is the Executive President of the Asia Future Institute and former member of the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea.