Korea’s Indo-Pacific strategy and the spirit of Camp David

DIPLOMATIC POUCH - Lee Sang-Hwa - The Philippine Star

As Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to the Philippines, I find it timely and appropriate to reflect upon the trilateral summit hosted by US President Joe Biden at Camp David on Aug. 18, 2023, in light of its profound implications for the Korean Peninsula, the Indo-Pacific region and on Korea-Philippine relations. The summit meeting was attended by President Yoon Suk Yeol of the Republic of Korea and Prime Minister Kishida Fumio of Japan.

The significance of this historic summit, the first stand-alone trilateral meeting among Korea, Japan and the United States, is underscored by the multifaceted challenges it addressed. It resolutely conveyed an unequivocal commitment for the complete denuclearization of North Korea, and the leaders explicitly voiced support for the Audacious Initiative of the Korean government for the pursuit of enduring peace on the Korean Peninsula.

On a wider scale, believing that a free and open Indo-Pacific is key to a thriving, connected, resilient and stable environment, the leaders wholeheartedly reaffirmed ASEAN centrality and unity and their support for the ASEAN-led regional architecture. Furthermore, the summit highlighted the importance of upholding rules-based international order, including the freedom of navigation and overflight, in the South China Sea. The leaders reiterated their strong opposition to any unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the waters of the Indo-Pacific.

The trilateral summit also sought to strengthen policy coordination on possible disruptions to global supply chains as well as to better prepare in response to economic coercion. As members of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF), the Philippines and Korea are well positioned to promote solidarity and cooperation in this endeavor. On a bilateral level, our two countries are close to signing a Free Trade Agreement, a milestone agreement that will offer ample opportunities for a win-win economic partnership.

It is essential to recognize the ties that bind the Philippines and Korea, as they reflect the unwavering solidarity established during the Korean War, wherein the Philippines was one of the 16 countries under the United Nations Command and the first in Asia to send troops to Korea in the darkest time of our history. The friendship forged in blood between Korea and the Philippines shines as this year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of the Korean War.

This shared history of sacrifice and camaraderie will once again be at the forefront in 2024, when the depth of our partnership and the indomitable spirit that continues to inspire our nations’ partnership will be in the spotlight during the celebration of the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Korea and the Philippines. As we look forward to next year, we expect more high-level engagements in the coming months.

The Philippines has emerged as Korea’s steadfast partner in trade and investment. Korean enterprises are regarded as the most reliable partner of the “Build Better More” program, as exemplified by the presence of President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. at the recent inauguration ceremony of the Samar Pacific Coastal Road Project, which was built with assistance from Korea. This is consistent with Korea’s development thrust, which includes increasing the amount of funds that can be tapped by the Philippines for the Marcos administration’s infrastructure development program, from the current $1 billion to $3 billion through Korea’s Economic Development Cooperation Fund (EDCF).

Also, the cultural resonance between our nations cannot be understated. People-to-people exchanges, catalyzed by the popularity of K-pop and K-drama, have cemented bridges of understanding and appreciation. The Philippines warmly welcomes Korean tourists, making them the largest group of incoming visitors. On the other hand, the upcoming opening of the Korea Visa Application Center (KVAC) will further simplify and enhance the travel experience of Filipinos, promoting deeper connections between our peoples.

The recent trilateral summit and its resulting document, the Spirit of Camp David, reaffirmed that peace, stability and prosperity are intricately interconnected and, in this regard, underscored the importance of strengthening solidarity among like-minded countries in the Indo-Pacific. As Korea and the Philippines look forward to 75 years of friendship, we embrace our shared history while anticipating a future marked by strengthened economic ties, enhanced cooperation, and vibrant cultural exchanges.

With the trilateral summit paving the way for a period of unprecedented partnership, the journey ahead promises a brighter and more prosperous Indo-Pacific region, rooted in the principles of peace, stability and mutual growth.

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Lee Sang-hwa is the Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to the Philippines.

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