Strengthened ties with Seoul welcome

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    PRESIDENT Duterte is back from attending the commemorative summit of the ASEAN and the Republic of Korea, an event that not only enhanced his overall image as a regional leader but also reassured the good and robust friendship of the Philippines with this northeastern neighbor.

    The event that was planned to celebrate the 30th year of the ASEAN-ROK dialogue mechanism, also became an occasion of the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and Seoul to adopt a blueprint for “peace, prosperity and partnership” for the next three decades. For the Philippines, that would be a whole century of friendship and cooperation, because our ties with South Korea go back 70 years.

    Duterte’s meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in resulted in the two nations’ elevating their bilateral relations to a higher level of strategic partnership. It was President Duterte’s second visit to Seoul, and this time he extended the invitation to Moon to visit the Philippines at the soonest, mutually convenient opportunity.

    Moon cited the fact that Koreans are still the top visitors to the Philippines, and that bilateral trade reached a record high of $15 billion last year, with great prospects of increasing in the years ahead.

    It should make Filipinos happy that it was even President Moon who sought to bolster his country’s ties with Manila. President Moon said, “Based on our history of friendship and trust, the time is right for our two countries to think about elevating our relations to a strategic partnership. The elevation of our relations will pave the way for our two countries to engage in greater cooperation that will lead us to common prosperity.”

    The two countries signed cooperation agreements on fisheries, education, social security and tourism. Among these areas of cooperation, it may be considered that the most important is fisheries, with both Korea and the Philippines geographically connected with the Pacific Ocean and thus, both derive a big chunk of their economic resources from the sea.

    During the past decades, Korea has improved its fisheries sector by leaps and bounds, and the Philippines stand to benefit from this development. Under the accord, the two countries will share information and technologies in the fisheries sector and exchange related officials to carry out joint research projects.

    South Korea has also announced new initiatives in its engagements with ASEAN, including trade and investments, connectivity, capacity building for MSMEs, technical vocational education training, smart city development and startup programs.

    This should prompt the Philippines to take advantage of economic, trade and cultural opportunities opened by these new developments in Korea. Such development should be met with the same pro-active vigor and enthusiasm similar to what the Duterte administration has shown in its pivot to China.