MANILA — There’s more to K-pop in South Korea.
And experts are hoping that the Philippines will be able to take advantage of the fruits of the New Southern Policy (NSP) Plus, Republic of Korea’s President Moon Jae-in’s initiative to deepen South Korea’s engagement with ASEAN and beyond, encompassing diplomatic, economic, socio-cultural, and strategic areas.
NSP Plus upgrades the current policy to reflect the changing environment and priorities in the post-COVID-19 period.
The policy also has seven priority areas, taking into consideration the need to deal with the challenges of COVID-19 and “shifts in the needs and priorities of Republic of Korea-ASEAN relations,” explained Dr. Won-gi Choe, Professor and Head of Center for ASEAN–India Studies at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy.
The priority areas of the program include public health, education and human capital development, cultural exchanges, trade and investment, infrastructure development, future industries, and non-traditional security issues such as environment, climate change and marine waste.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, public health cooperation has become the policy’s top concern, as it aimed for comprehensive health cooperation by doubling official development assistance funding devoted to health cooperation programs in the next 5 years.
“Originally, public health cooperation was not a major component in the original NSP implementation program so they adjusted, they coordinated and they changed the program. So now public health cooperation is the number one priority in NSP Plus,” Dr. Choe said in a webinar organized by the UP Korea Research Center and the Embassy of the Republic of Korea.
Dindo Manhit of the Stratbase Albert del Rosario Institute for Strategic and International Studies meanwhile said the Philippines needs to veer away from its reliance on traditional growth drivers such as consumer spending.
The country should instead develop policies for long-term, inclusive economic recovery by focusing on the need for investment-driven growth, Manhit pointed out.
He added that it is imperative to enhance the country’s role in the global supply chain and benefit from the manufacturing exodus from China as the pandemic forces companies to diversify their supply chains
“With the Philippines, we see it growing even in our culture, the way we appreciate K-pop or Korean TV, but more than that, as we grow and realize the opportunities that we get from investments coming from Korean companies investing, creating Korean jobs and livelihood that will really strengthen our relationship with Korea,” he said.
Special economic zones, he said, should be strengthened to accommodate manufacturing companies that wish to relocate to the Philippines, followed by efforts to ease the cost of doing business as the pandemic speeds up change through automation.
The Philippines should also transform digitally to become globally competitive.
“I see a real opportunity with NSP Plus moving forward and it can only focus on key issues that are confronting the Philippines as we try to recover from this pandemic,” the expert said.
“There is really a need to create more opportunities that will address rising unemployment, underemployment and more investments from Korea… as they move to ASEAN, hopefully we can get a piece of that investment that will really strengthen relations between us and Republic of Korea.”
PH-South Korean relations
Manhit said the well-established relations between the Philippines and South Korea across political, sociocultural, and economic engagements provide various platforms and opportunities “to enable new areas for cooperation and to sustain and elevate existing mechanisms.”
He also highlighted the role that “middle powers” can play in maintaining an open and multi-polar Indo-Pacific region amid the rivalry between the US and China and rise of traditional and nontraditional security threats.
ASEAN states, particularly the Philippines, and other middle powers, he explained, have non-threatening posture and have the capacity to navigate through the “hierarchical nature of global affairs.”
“With this the Philippines has a strategic positioning within the region to create an environment for economic development opportunities and people-centered prosperity without undermining the participation of other key players,” he said.
Meanwhile, research fellow Aaron Jed Rabena of the Asia Pacific Pathways to Progress proposed that South Korea should also target the Philippines' Investment Priorities Plan aside from investing in the administration’s “Build, Build, Build” program.
Rabena also urged South Korea to invest in climate resilient infrastructure, and also engage in the sub-regional grouping BIMP-EAGA just as it does the Mekong region, by supporting the ASEAN RORO shipping network.
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